Heart disease is caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries that feed the heart. Like any muscle, the heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries.
When the coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged by cholesterol and fat deposits—a process called atherosclerosis—and cannot supply enough blood to the heart, the result is coronary heart disease (CHD). If not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart, you may experience chest pain called angina. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by total blockage of a coronary artery, the result is a heart attack. This is usually due to a sudden closure from a blood clot forming on top of a previous narrowing.
What is Cholesterol and What Does it Have to Do With Heart Disease?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body and that your body needs to function normally. It is present in cell walls or membranes everywhere in the body, including the brain, nerves, muscle, skin, liver, intestines, and heart. Your body uses cholesterol to produce many hormones, vitamin D, and the bile acids that help to digest fat. It takes only a small amount of cholesterol in the blood to meet these needs. However, if you have too much cholesterol in your bloodstream, it can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition in which fat and cholesterol are deposited in the walls of the arteries in many parts of the body, including the coronary arteries feeding the heart. In time, narrowing of the coronary arteries by atherosclerosis can produce the signs and symptoms of heart disease, including angina and heart attack.
Some of the Conditions That Put You at High Risk for Heart Disease Include:
- Atherosclerosis in the arteries of your legs-poor circulation in the legs
- Plaque or narrowing in your carotid (neck) arteries that has caused a “mini stroke” or a stroke
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm (a bulge in the main artery of the body)
The good news is that by lowering your
blood cholesterol, you can reduce your risk
of having a heart attack or other complications of heart disease.
The Four Steps You Can Take to Lower Your Blood Cholesterol:
- Follow the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet (low saturated fat, low cholesterol)
- Be more physically active
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Take cholesterol lowering medication if prescribed by your doctor.
Your doctor will prescribe a personalized treatment plan according to your LDL-cholesterol level, which may include cholesterol lowering medication.
Even if your doctor starts you on a cholesterol-lowering drug, it is still important for you to adopt heart-healthy life habits. These will help to bring a bigger drop in your cholesterol level, and will reduce your risk for future Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) in other ways as well.
Your blood cholesterol level is affected not only by what you eat but also by how quickly your body makes LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and disposes of it. In fact, your body makes all the cholesterol it needs, and it is not necessary to take in any additional cholesterol from the foods you eat.
Many factors help determine whether your LDL-cholesterol level is high or low. The following factors are the most important:
- What you eat
- Physical activity/exercise
- Age and sex
Your LDL level is a good indicator of your risk for heart disease.
Lowering LDL is the main aim of treatment
if you have high cholesterol. In general, the higher your
LDL level, the greater your chance of developing heart disease.
Talk with your doctor about what you can do to
manage your cholesterol.
Courtesy of AstraZeneca patient education