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Situated in the chest cavity under the breastbone, the heart is approximately the size of an average fist. This small, muscular organ contracts and relaxes thousands of times a day to pump blood around the body through a network of vessels which stretch some 60,000 miles! Amazingly the heart functions as a double pump which has four chambers, the upper right atrium, the upper left atrium, the lower right ventricle and the lower left ventricle. The right side of the heart is responsible for receiving blood low in oxygen and high in carbon dioxide from the body via the veins and directing it to the lungs to be oxygenated. The left side receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it via the arteries around the body.

What is Heart Disease?

There are many forms of Heart Disease but the most common is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Just as the body requires the circulation of nutrients and oxygen to its different tissues, so does the heart. The blood vessels that discharge this duty and cover the heart are called the coronary arteries.
Healthy arteries are strong, elastic and flexible in nature and have a smooth inside through which blood can flow easily. With age the arteries can become thicker, less elastic and residue can build up in them. This general hardening of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis. This gradual build up of fatty cholesterol and other substances causes a narrowing of the arteries, resulting in strained blood flow. In the case of coronary arteries this reduced blood flow means that they can not supply the heart muscle/tissue with the amount of oxygenated blood it requires. Under these circumstances a person can experience symptoms such as chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath when they physically exert themselves.

This chest pain is described and known as angina. What is known as stable angina is usually triggered by physical activity that increases the heart's demand for oxygen. This type of angina is usually relieved through rest or by taking a prescribed medicine such as nitro-glycerine. Stable angina doesn’t usually last long, is often predictable and does not normally require hospitalisation. Unstable angina is a dangerous condition, characterised by a progressive increase in the number, severity, or duration of episodes over a small period of time. This type of angina can produce intense pain that lasts longer and is brought on by less effort. Unstable angina is a disabling condition that can lead on to a serious heart attack where the coronary arteries become completely blocked.

What are the Risk Factors?
The risk factors comprise of characteristics and habits that can increase the chances of developing coronary artery disease. Some of these factors can not be controlled, whilst others can. For instance we can not control family history of heart ailments, race, age or gender which are related to the onset of heart disease. However, we can help control, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, reduce excess weight, eat a healthy diet, monitor stress levels, increase the level of exercise, stop smoking cigarettes and control high blood pressure all of which affect the condition of our heart and chances of developing CAD.

Treatment of coronary artery disease focuses on balancing the supply of blood flow to the different parts of the heart that require it. Different modes of treatment are available depending on the severity and type of problem. Treatments include medications, angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery. Reducing your risk of coronary disease involves taking a detailed look at your controllable risk factors as mentioned above and modify/changing the components that may put your heart and health at risk.

Maintaining a sensible weight can help reduce your chances of developing heart disease. Check whether you have a healthy weight on our BMI Calculator.



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