In my previous post I mentioned, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a chronic disease. I wanted to spend more time talking about the subject. There is a huge focus on heart health these days, let’s talk about why!
The term cardiovascular disease or heart disease, refers to diseases involving the heart and its blood vessels. This covers anything from coronary artery disease (hardening of your blood vessels) and heart attack, to heart failure (fluid overload), stroke and more.
I could go on and on about diseases related to the heart but, then what would I write about next time? Today let’s focus on coronary artery disease (CAD).
As mentioned before, CAD is the hardening of your blood vessels. This happens when you have high ‘bad’ cholesterol and the fat particles (cholesterol) floating around in your blood stream start camping out on the lining of your arteries. There are two types of cholesterol, the good kind and, the bad kind. High density lipoprotein or HDL is the good kind. It circulates the body picking up the bad cholesterol and brings it to your liver which then removes it from your body. Low density lipoprotein or LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol, it is the one that I previously mentioned camping out in your arteries. The good cholesterol can be improved with exercise whereas the bad cholesterol can be improved by diet and exercise.
The trouble with these fatty deposits camping out in your arteries is, it can make them more narrow, stiff, or totally clog them up. Think about a pipe, after many showers and strands of long hair (glucose – see ‘The Diabetes’) mixed with soap (cholesterol) causing a back-up – blek. Unfortunately, there is no such proverbial Draino for the heart. The only way to remove the cholesterol after it is already there is to have a doctor perform a fairly serious procedure to help clear it up – it’s no DIY!
So, to recap, when cholesterol builds up in your arteries by either making the lining harder or clogging up the artery, this is coronary artery disease (CAD).
How does CAD affect the heart?
Well, because the arteries are harder and/or narrower, the heart experiences more pressure when trying to pump blood. Think about the clogged drain, it is draining slower but, in the case of the heart, it cannot afford to drain at a slower rate, it needs to work against the pressure. This causes your heart to work harder and can also cause your blood pressure to increase.
How do we prevent this?
Well, the same way we mentioned in our previous blog ‘Breaking Down the Concept of Chronic Disease’! There are lifestyle factors that you can address that relate to: smoking, alcohol, weight, diet, and physical activity. Check out the post for more details.
When should I start screening my cholesterol?
Well, this depends – if you are at high risk for cardiovascular disease meaning you have one or more of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, diabetes type 2, smoke, or have a family history of heart disease, it is usually suggested you have a baseline cholesterol check at approximately 30 years of age. If you are under 30 but feel the need to have your cholesterol checked, you should certainly discuss this with your family doctor.
If you have none of the above risk factors and are at lower risk, it would be reasonable to start screening at 35.
Please note that these recommendations are solely meant to open a discussion with your family doctor about when testing is right for you.
What do your results mean?
The results of your cholesterol levels will be interpreted based on your risk factors. Depending on that, your doctor might suggest lifestyle modifications and/or medications to help decrease your risk of further cholesterol build up and of having a future heart related event.
So, our pearls from today’s blog?
- CAD is narrowing/blocking of the arteries
- The heart is affected by CAD because the narrowing/blocking makes it harder for the heart to pump
- Check your cholesterol – especially if you have risk factors!