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Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and What It Means to Seniors

Coronary Artery DiseaseThe coronary arteries are the small vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle. Since the heart is constantly working throughout life, it needs a uninterrupted supply of oxygen and nutrients. Coronary artery disease is a condition where the coronary arteries become damaged or diseased subsequently leading to narrowing of the vessel. This has a profound impact on the heart which is dependent on these vessels to supply it with blood.

Therefore coronary artery disease can lead to angina, a heart attack, abnormal heart rhythm and even heart failure in the long term. There is a significant age-related risk and therefore coronary artery disease is more common in seniors. It is also one of the common causes of death in the elderly. In fact it is the single largest killer of both males and females in the United States.

How does coronary artery disease arise?

Coronary artery disease usually starts with some injury to the inner lining of the artery. This can occur for any number of reasons and may be related to :

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels

Fatty plaques can then build up in the inner layer of the artery once damaged. This is known as atherosclerosis. Eventually the coronary arteries are narrowed thereby impeding the blood supply to the heart especially during periods of increased physical activity. It leads to cardiac chest pain known as angina pectoris.

If these fatty plaques rupture, a blood clot can quickly form at the site thereby completely blocking the already narrowed coronary artery. Sometimes this blood can travel from elsewhere through the bloodstream to the narrowed point in the artery. Blockage of the coronary artery can lead to a heart attack.

Who is at risk of coronary artery disease?

Any person can develop coronary artery disease but it is more likely as a person gets older and if there is a strong family history. Men and menopausal women are a higher risk group. Other people who are at risk, apart from those suffering with one or more of the conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol, are people who are :

  • Cigarette smokers
  • Obese
  • Living sedentary lifestyles
  • Under psychological stress

Living with Coronary Artery Disease

Most people with coronary artery disease are not aware of the condition until it becomes severe. The symptoms of coronary artery disease depends on the condition that it leads to – a heart attack, heart failure or arrhythmias. Chest pain which arises with physical activity and stress and eases with rest or the use of drugs like nitrates is known as angina pectoris. It is often accompanied by difficulty breathing and are the major symptoms of coronary artery disease. However, it may not be present in the early stages.

Regular check ups are the most effective way of monitoring coronary artery disease. Medication may help ease attacks, reduce the severity of the condition and even prevent the formation of blood clots from occurring. Eventually, however, surgery is necessary although not in every case if it is well managed. Procedures such as angioplasty widens the artery and allows for a stent to be placed within it thereby keeping the artery open. Bypass surgery establishes alternative passages for blood flow by grafting a new artery to the affected area.

Seniors are at the greatest risk of the coronary artery disease progressing to the point of causing serious and even life threatening complications. Apart from consulting with a physician on a regular basis and following the doctor’s recommendations closely, simple lifestyle measures may also be helpful. This includes :

  • Losing weight.
  • Sticking to an effective exercise program.
  • Switching to a healthy well balanced diet with low glycemic index (GI) and low fat foods.
  • Proper stress management.
  • Stopping cigarette smoking.
  • Treating any underlying diseases such as diabetes and managing it appropriately.

Seniors have to be extra vigilant with coronary artery disease and ensure that the treatment and management is meticulous. This not only involves the input of a trusted doctor but efforts on the part of the person in preventing complications from arising.


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