Coronary heart disease

Disease of the coronary arteries

In coronary heart disease, the coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked. This results in a lack of oxygen in the heart muscle tissue, which causes symptoms such as pain and can damage the heart. Coronary heart disease cannot be cured. Angina pectoris is one of the most common symptoms of coronary heart disease.

But with the right treatment, affected people can have a similar quality of life to healthy people. The most important thing is a healthy lifestyle. Not only can you reduce the risk of developing the disease, but you can also alleviate symptoms and prevent dangerous consequences if you already have coronary heart disease.

Overview: What is coronary heart disease?

In coronary heart disease (CHD), the heart muscle is no longer supplied with sufficient oxygen. This is caused by narrowed coronary arteries. Typical signs are, for example, a feeling of tightness and pain behind the breastbone, which occur when exertion is exerted (also known as angina pectoris). Possible consequences of coronary heart disease can be cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac insufficiency, heart attack or, in the worst case, sudden cardiac death. As the narrowed vessels often occur as a result of arteriosclerosis, an unfavorable lifestyle (e.g. smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet, obesity, etc.) can promote the development of coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease – age and incidence

In fact, coronary heart disease is one of the most common cardiovascular diseases. Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 are particularly at risk. In addition to age, gender also has an influence on the risk of developing the disease: in Switzerland, the risk is 23 percent for men and 18 percent for women. Coronary heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in western industrialized countries.

Coronary heart disease: causes and risk factors

The coronary vessels, also known as coronary arteries, supply the heart muscle with fresh blood and oxygen. Sometimes the coronary arteries narrow or become completely blocked. In such a case, experts speak of “coronary heart disease”. In most cases, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is the cause. Cholesterol and calcium are deposited in so-called “plaques” on the walls of the blood vessels. The plaques cause the vessels to constrict so that not enough blood can flow through them. As a result, the heart muscle is no longer supplied with sufficient oxygen. Affected people feel the typical discomfort, especially under stress. Over time, the vessels become more and more constricted and the symptoms can also appear with little exertion or at rest. In the worst case, a complete vascular occlusion develops and leads to a heart attack.

These risk factors exist

Various factors can influence the risk of developing coronary heart disease. On the one hand, the disease is a consequence of ageing. On the other hand, there is also a familial predisposition. Lifestyle also plays a major role in the risk of developing the disease. Smoking, obesity (especially an unfavorable fat distribution with an accumulation of stored fat in the free abdominal cavity), stress and lack of exercise promote the development of coronary heart disease. Underlying illnesses such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, a lipometabolic disorder and poorly controlled diabetes are also unfavorable.

Symptoms: Attack-like chest pain is typical

Depending on how pronounced the narrowing is and where the narrowed area in the coronary arteries is located, the symptoms may be more or less severe. Typical signs of coronary heart disease, which are summarized under the technical term “angina pectoris”, are seizure-like pain or a burning sensation behind the breastbone. The pain can radiate to other areas of the body such as the arms up to the fingertips and sometimes also to the shoulder blades, the neck, the back, the upper abdomen or the lower jaw. A feeling of tightness in the chest is also characteristic.

More on the symptom “Angina pectoris”

Diagnosis of coronary heart disease

If coronary heart disease is suspected, we will first have a detailed discussion with you (medical history). We don’t just ask about possible complaints, we are also interested in information like this:

  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you exercise regularly?
  • What kind of food do you eat?
  • Are you stressed?
  • Do you have additional complaints such as high blood pressure, elevated blood lipid levels, a lipometabolic disorder or diabetes?
  • Are there any cases of coronary heart disease in your family?
  • Do you have or have you had problems with your heart in the past?

The interview is usually followed by a physical examination. We measure your blood pressure, listen to your lungs and heart, take blood for further analysis and sometimes also examine your chest. This allows us to rule out the possibility that tension, for example, is causing complaints such as pain behind the breastbone. There are also a number of other diagnostic measures that can confirm the suspicion of coronary heart disease.

The diagnosis of angina pectoris requires more than conventional methods. In addition to ECG and echocardiography, we rely on other innovative procedures such as coronary angiography and non-invasive imaging technologies to ensure precise insights. Find out more about the specific diagnostic procedures for angina pectoris.

Coronary heart disease: prevention, early detection, prognosis

As the symptoms of coronary heart disease are often only very mild in the early stages of the disease, early detection is difficult. However, you can do a lot yourself to reduce the risk of illness. As coronary heart disease is often caused by hardening of the arteries, a healthy lifestyle is extremely important for prevention. First and foremost, this means that you

  • give up cigarettes(smoking advice)
  • Avoid or reduce excess weight – through a permanent change in diet and regular exercise,
  • learn to deal with stress as well as possible – e.g. by learning a relaxation technique such as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation,
  • get enough exercise – suitable endurance sports include walking, swimming or cycling – and
  • eat a healthy and varied diet – i.e. lots of vegetables and fiber, as little animal fat and salt as possible.

If you suffer from other complaints such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, you should have these treated properly. Regular health checks are also important – especially if you have already had a heart attack or have a family history of coronary heart disease or other heart problems.

Course and prognosis

As a rule, medication or sometimes an operation that directly removes the vasoconstriction relieves the symptoms very well. In the long term, however, you should try to change your lifestyle. This prevents arteriosclerosis from progressing further or reappearing at a different site – and thus worsening the prognosis of your disease. You should also take your medication regularly and remember to come to us for check-ups.

It is important to treat coronary heart disease as early as possible. All the better to prevent damage to the heart. If coronary heart disease is treated too late or not sufficiently, heartfailure or heart rhythm disturbances can develop and have a negative impact on the further course of the disease. Without treatment, the risk of sudden cardiac death or a heart attack increases. Important: A heart attack is life-threatening. If you suspect an accident, call the emergency services immediately (144).

Coronary heart disease: treatment in several steps

The treatment of coronary heart disease is very important in order to prevent a severe course of the disease and to improve the quality of life of the person affected. The right therapy requires not only medical knowledge, but also the help of the person suffering from the disease. It often involves a combination of several measures.