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    Coronary Heart Disease

    Coronary heart disease (CHD) (also known as coronary artery disease and ischemic heart disease) is caused by a thickening of the inside walls of the coronary arteries. This thickening, called artherosclerosis, narrows the space through which blood can flow, decreasing and sometimes completely cutting off the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart. If not enough oxygen-carrying blood reaches the heart, it may respond with a pain called angina--usually felt in the chest or left arm and shoulder. When the blood supply is cut off completely, the result is a heart attack.

    The image to the left shows the Front View of Heart Showing Cross Sections of Arteries: Normal artery, Diseased - Narrowed artery, and a Diseased - Blocked artery.

    Atherosclerosis usually occurs when a person has high levels of cholesterol, a fat-like substance, in the blood. Cholesterol and fat, circulating in the blood, build up on the walls of the arteries. The buildup narrows the arteries and can slow or block the flow of blood. When the level of cholesterol in the blood is high, there is a greater chance that it will be deposited onto the artery walls. This process begins in most people during childhood and the teenage years, and worsens as they get older.

    In addition to high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking also contribute to CHD. On the average, each of these doubles your chance of developing heart disease. Therefore, a person who has all three risk factors is eight times more likely to develop heart disease than someone who has none. Obesity and physical inactivity are other factors that can lead to CHD. Overweight increases the likelihood of developing high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure, and physical inactivity increases the risk of heart attack. Regular exercise, good nutrition, and smoking cessation are key to controlling the risk factors for CHD.

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    Illustration Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute