Oh sure, the heart gets all the publicity. People say, “What a big heart!” and “She’s so strong-hearted.” And it was, after all, the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes that day that saved Christmas.
But it’s the tiny coronary arteries that keep that all-important pump filled with oxygen-rich blood. So if something goes wrong with those tiny vessels, then your one-and-only heart truly suffers.
But they’re just little tubes. Coronary artery disease (CAD), also called coronary heart disease, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. in both men and women. Unfortunately, these delicate vessels easily fall prey to blockages from plaque build-up that narrows their width. “But fortunately, you’re born with a heart that pumps more blood than you need. You have reserves,” says Clifton Lewis, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Cardio-Thoracic Surgeons in Birmingham.
Surely I’ll know when there’s trouble. “Some people need only a little blockage in one area to disable them with symptoms, while another person has almost everything closed off, and their first symptom is a heart attack. It’s all variable,” says Dr. Lewis, who’s been a board certified cardiothoracic surgeon for 22 years.
The two symptoms people ignore. “Fatigue and shortness of breath, particularly in women,” says Dr. Lewis. “Their energy and breath consistently give out quickly when they’re exerting themselves. In diabetics, they’re usually just tired.”
Oil your arteries. “Most people stumble into poor health,” says Dr. Lewis. “But if you’re eating fish, you may be stumbling into good health.” Some cold-water fish, like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, known to help reduce the build-up of plaque in arteries.
There’s no cure, so pay attention. “Coronary artery disease is a chronic, progressive, incurable disease. We don’t cure it; we make people live longer and relieve the disease,” says Dr. Lewis. “It’s a big unpleasant experience to get a bypass, so your goal is to not ever need me.”
He adds that to increase your odds of avoiding CAD, lead a healthy lifestyle: no smoking (even smokeless tobacco), stay lean, make exercise a religious endeavor, and eat a healthy diet. Otherwise, you may find yourself literally “broken-hearted”.
by Jane Ehrhardt
This article written and brought to you by BirminghamDoctors.com.