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Ischemic heart disease is more commonly known as coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries supply oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. When these arteries get damaged, plaque starts building up in the affected areas. This plaque hardens over time and narrows the coronary arteries, thereby decreasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This may lead to severe chest pain (angina).

Sometimes, the plaque may even break. This may lead to the formation of blood clots at the site of rupture. These bloods clots may completely block the coronary artery and cause a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

Causes
There are many factors that are may lead to the damage of the coronary arteries. They are:
  • Family history of coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy eating habits, especially fatty foods
  • Previous heart attack or stroke
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol
  • Inflammation of blood vessels
Genetic factors like family history of the disease cannot be controlled; however, other risk factors can be controlled to prevent or delay the onset of this condition.

Symptoms
IHD has no symptoms in the early stages. Nonetheless, there are symptoms that you may notice at the later stages such as angina pectoris. This symptom is characterized by sensations such as burning, squeezing, heaviness or tightness in the chest, which may further extend to the neck jaw, left arm, or shoulder blade. Ordinarily, angina pectoris occurs after a physical activity lasting for not more than a few minutes. It is worse when the activity follows a meal. It can also occur if the individual goes from a low temperature zone to a high temperature zone. Emotional stress can cause and/or worsen it further. Not all people with IHD would encounter angina pectoris. If they don't, there is a possibility that they suffer from Silent Ischemic Heart Disease, the causes of which, are still unknown.

Diagnosis
Coronary Artery Disease can be diagnosed depending on the nature of the prevalent symptoms. An Electrocardiogram (ECG) may be done to check for "stable" angina and "acute" coronary syndrome. Further, an X-Ray of the chest and blood tests may also be needed to be performed.

It is mostly observed that angina is clinically diagnosed due to repeated complaints of chest discomfort on exertion which is relieved by rest. It is further confirmed by observing reversible ischemic changes on ECG during an attack or by giving a test dose of sublingual nitroglycerin that ordinarily relieves the pain within 3 minutes.

The severity of ischaemia, and the presence and extent of the heart disease is determined by certain tests. Diagnostic tests include electrocardiogram (measures electrical activity of the heart), echocardiogram (measures sound waves), exercise-tolerance test, thallium stress test, blood studies to measure total fat, cholesterol, and lipoproteins, X-rays of the chest, and coronary angiogram (cardiac catheterization).

Treatment
Treatment for coronary artery disease usually involves lifestyle changes and, if required, certain medicines and medical procedures.
  • Lifestyle changes may include quitting the habit of smoking, eating healthy diet, regular exercising, losing excess weight, and staying away from stress.
  • Medications may include LDL cholesterol reducing medications, Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, blood thinning medications, etc.
  • Medical procedures may include angioplasty and stent placement, and bypass surgery.
The patients have to ensure that all the risk factors are effectively eliminated from their lifestyle. Regular medical checkup is also very important along with a healthy lifestyle. This will help in early diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.