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World Heart Day: Show Your Ticker Some Love!

Coronary heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Here, Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU) Cardiologist Dr. Shuling Bai explains what the disease is, who is at risk, and what you can do to stay safe.

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1) Coronary heart disease is one of the most fatal diseases on the planet. How does it cause death? 

The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood through the body’s network of arteries, delivering blood and oxygen to our organs and tissues. The coronary arteries run along the surface of the heart and provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle so it can keep pumping. Over the years, plaque (which is made of cholesterol and fatty deposits) can build up in the blood vessels and narrow the arteries supplying blood to the heart. The narrowed arteries are at a higher risk for developing a sudden blood clot, which would block blood flow to the heart muscle completely. Should this happen, the heart muscle cells would suffer a shortage or loss of blood and oxygen. This condition is called a heart attack.

Heart attacks can be fatal if the clot is located at a key part of a coronary artery. If this happens, the heart may stop beating or start to quiver, failing to pump blood at all. This is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death.

2) Are there any early warning signs of coronary heart disease?

There are some warning signs of coronary heart disease. The typical symptoms are chest discomfort after exertion, or a feeling of pressure, tightness, squeezing, heaviness, or pain behind the breastbone or around the heart. These sensations may also spread to the neck, throat, teeth, jaw, left shoulder, upper belly, or inside of the left arm. Doctors call this angina pectoris.

There are also warning signs prior to a heart attack. These are often not typical symptoms like the ones above are. Pay attention to any chest discomfort, as this could come three to five days before a heart attack. Also, be especially aware of new, exertion-related pain that comes along with excessive sweating, indicating unstable angina.

3) Should everyone get screened for coronary heart disease?

People who are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease should get screened. The risk factors are as follows:

  • Smoking;
  • Hypertension;
  • Diabetes;
  • Hyperlipidemia;
  • Premature coronary artery disease (for men, that’s younger than 55. For women, it’s 65);
  • Excessive alcohol consumption;
  • Sedentary lifestyle;
  • Obesity;
  • A history of sleep deprivation; and
  • Chronic stress.

Age and gender also determine your risk. The older you get, the greater your chances of developing heart disease. Men are more likely to suffer from heart disease, but women may have harder-to-recognize symptoms, so they may not get medical treatment as quickly.

At BJU, we offer stress tests to help diagnose heart diseases. Stress echocardiograms and coronary CT angiograms are commonly used as screening assessment tools for coronary artery disease.

4) What can I do to lower my risk of coronary heart disease?

The risk factors we mentioned above can be classified into two types: modifiable and unmodifiable.

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Obviously, there’s not much you can do about your age and gender. These are the unmodifiable risk factors. The modifiable risk factors would be smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption, chronic stress, lack of sleep, and the like. If your risk of coronary heart disease is high, then you should do your best to minimize the modifiable risk factors. That could involve quitting smoking and drinking heavily, getting fitter, reducing your consumption of cholesterol- and sugar-heavy foods, and taking steps to remove stress from your life.

5) What medical care does BJU offer to people who suffer from coronary heart disease?

For people who suffer from established coronary heart disease, we provide a whole course of services, from prevention to medical therapy to interventional procedures. These include elective and emergency coronary angioplasty, stent placement, and cardiac rehabilitation. We also have a clinic to provide psychological support for patients who have both heart disease and a psychological disorder.

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Dr. Shuling Bai is a cardiologist, and is Assistant Chair of the Cardiovascular Center at BJU. If you would like to make an appointment with her, or if you would like to book a stress test, please call the BJU Service Center at 4008-919191. 

Written by Anitra Williams

Patient Center