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Ischemic Heart Disease


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is ischemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease is a condition of recurring chest pain or discomfort that occurs when a part of the heart does not receive enough blood. This condition occurs most often during exertion or excitement, when the heart requires greater blood flow. Ischemic heart disease, also called coronary heart disease, is common in the United States and is a leading cause of death worldwide.

Ischemic heart disease develops when cholesterol particles in the blood begin to accumulate on the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Eventually, deposits called plaques may form. These deposits narrow the arteries and eventually block the flow of blood. This decrease in blood flow reduces the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart muscle.

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The signs and symptoms of ischemic heart disease may develop slowly as arteries gradually become blocked, or they may occur quickly if an artery suddenly becomes blocked. Some people with ischemic heart disease have no symptoms at all, while others may have severe chest pain (angina) and shortness of breath that can pose a risk of heart attack.

Fortunately, ischemic heart disease can be treated successfully with lifestyle changes, medicines, and surgical procedures. Even better, you can reduce your risk of ischemic heart disease by following heart-healthy practices, such as eating a low-fat, low-sodium diet, being physically active, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Left untreated, ischemic heart disease may lead to severe heart damage. Heart damage can result in heart attack and shock and may be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, which may be accompanied by pale or blue lips, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), and severe chest pain. Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for angina but have mild symptoms that recur or are persistent.