Ischemic heart disease

Written by Christophe Locatelli03/03/23

Adults over the age of 65 have a higher risk of experiencing Ischemic heart disease. Find out about the causes, symptoms to look out for, and recommended treatment and care.

What is ischemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease often referred to as Coronary heart disease (CHD) or Coronary artery disease, is a heart problem caused by narrowed heart arteries. When arteries become narrow, it’s hard for blood and oxygen to reach the heart muscle. This can lead to a myocardial infarction – more commonly known as a heart attack. 

What is the main cause of ischemic heart disease?

Ischaemic heart disease is caused by arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is chronic inflammation of the arteries that causes them to harden and accumulate cholesterol plaques (atheromatous plaques) on their walls. This leads to an increased risk of thrombus formation (blood clots attached to blood vessel linings).

It’s possible for arteriosclerosis to affect any of the arteries in the body. Arteriosclerosis has different symptoms depending on which organ is affected. For example, strokes can be caused by arteriosclerosis affecting arteries that carry blood to the brain. Severe chest pain or heart attacks can be caused by arteriosclerosis affecting arteries that carry blood to the heart.

Is IHD the same as heart failure?

Ischemic heart disease is not the same as heart failure – which is when the heart becomes too damaged and weak to pump blood around the body. however, this coronary disease is one of the most common causes. Blocked arteries caused by IHD reduce blood flow to the heart and can over time, consequently lead to heart failure.

Is IHD the same as a heart attack?

Ischemic heart disease is not a heart attack, but can often lead to one or other coronary events. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, such as a sudden blockage in one or more coronary arteries caused by a blood clot or spasm. As Ischemic heart disease narrows arteries, it’s possible for it to reduce the blood that leads to the heart and therefore causing a heart attack.

What are the symptoms of ischemic heart disease?

There are not always symptoms of ischemic heart disease, for example, a person can have silent ischemia in the heart or brain – this means there’s no pain or any other symptoms. It can still cause a heart attack or stroke, which can, unfortunately, be the first sign to lead to an ischemic heart disease diagnosis.

When symptoms do show, the type someone gets depends on the place in the body where ischemia is present. For example, if the heart is affected, symptoms will include but are not limited to, chest pain(angina pectoris), shortness of breath, faster than average heartbeat, unusual sweating or throwing up. When there is ischemia in the brain, symptoms can include, headaches that are sudden and hard, along with dizziness and throwing up, passing out, slurred speech and confusion.

If you think you might have ischemic heart disease, speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.

Who can get ischemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease is most common in people over 45, however, it can affect anyone at any age.

Cardiovascular risk factors generally increase with age – as the heart muscle and arteries can naturally grow weaker over time. Other conditions such as high blood pressure, which is common among older people can force the circulatory system too work harder. Increases in risk can also stem from years of poor eating or exercising habits. 

Some factors that increase the risk of developing IHD include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, a family history of heart disease and being overweight or obese. Additionally, being male and having a sedentary lifestyle are other risk factors for developing IHD before the age of 75. Over the age of 75, Coronary heart disease is believed to be more prevalent in women. 

Symptoms can differ too. Men often present with more typical early warning signs, such as chest pain. For women, symptoms may include shortness of breath or pain in the neck or jaw. 

It’s important to note that even if you don’t have any of these risk factors, you still may be at risk for IHD. Therefore, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your risk factors and get tested.

How is ischemic heart disease treated?

Ischemic heart disease can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on the severity and symptoms. Generally, lifestyle changes are the first step to addressing IHD and other cardiovascular diseases. This includes quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, such as vegetarian diets, doing regular physical activity to reduce your body mass index and body weight, and managing stress levels. Healthy lifestyle changes can reduce the effects of ischemic heart disease and lead to healthier arteries. 

If necessary, medications such as aspirin, cholesterol-modifying medications, beta-blockers and statins can be prescribed to reduce the risk of clots and further narrowing of the arteries. 

In more severe cases, procedures such as angioplasty – which is when a balloon is used to widen narrowed arteries, or coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG)  – which diverts blood around a blockage, may be recommended. 

Can IHD be cured?

Ischemic heart disease is not a curable condition, however, it can be managed and treated. Depending on the severity and individual risk factors, lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity and managing stress levels are recommended to improve overall health and reduce the risk of further complications or serious cardiovascular events.

Can you live with ischemic heart disease?

Yes, it is possible to live with ischemic heart disease. To do this, it’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle and make any necessary changes that have been recommended by your doctor. Additionally, taking any prescribed medications as recommended can help to manage the condition and reduce the risk of further complications.

It’s also important to be aware of any signs or symptoms that may indicate a worsening of ischemic heart disease and seek medical attention if they occur.

Lowering your chances of ischemic heart disease

Similar to how you can reduce the effects of ischemic heart disease, if you’re worried about receiving a diagnosis at all, making healthy lifestyle changes may reduce future risk of developing the condition.

Lifestyle choices can include eating more whole foods and grains, plus including more fruit and vegetables in your diet. You’re less likely to get ischemic heart disease if you don’t smoke, exercise regularly and try to manage your stress levels. 

Staying on top of other health problems is also important to reduce your risk; visit your doctor for regular check-ups, to check for conditions or your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. This helps catch problems early before symptoms arise. 

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