Coronary heart disease occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart, become hardened and narrowed due to buildup of plaque, called atherosclerosis. Plaque may also rupture and cause blood clots that block arteries. Coronary heart disease can lead to a heart attack. A heart attack is also known as a myocardial infarction. The most common sign of coronary heart disease is chest pain. Discomfort occurs when the heart is not getting enough blood. Over time, coronary heart disease can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure, a serious problem where the heart cannot pump blood the way that it should. Also, irregular heartbeats can develop.

In some people the first sign of coronary heart disease is a myocardial infarction. If the blood supply to the heart is reduced or blocked, heart muscle cells may not receive enough oxygen and begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart. This damage can cause irregular heart rhythms or sudden stopping of the heartbeat, which can result in death. Doctors can assess a person’s risk by checking blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, history of heart disease, tobacco use and other factors. Doctors can perform several tests to assess coronary heart disease in persons who are at high risk.

It is important to get to the hospital fast if you suspect a heart attack. The most common signs of heart attack are:

  • Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the body, possibly in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, shoulder or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath may come along with or before chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, weakness or lightheadedness.
More information is available from the department's Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention program, at (573) 522-2861.

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