What is ischaemic heart disease? Signs and symptoms to look out for

An ischaemic heart disease is a common form of heart disease, affecting over 1% of the world's population, with these rates rising.

If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease or believe the condition may impact you, stick with us as we cover the signs and symptoms, how to get diagnosed, and the treatment options.

What is ischaemic heart disease?

Ischemic heart disease, or ischemia, is a group of heart diseases which cause a reduction in the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart.

Two major types of ischemic heart disease are coronary artery disease (CAD) and coronary microvascular disorders.

Coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease and ischaemic heart disease are not the same.

However, the terms are often used interchangeably as coronary artery disease is a type of ischemic heart disease.

Coronary artery disease is a type of ischemic heart disease caused by a blockage in a major artery, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart.

Coronary microvascular disorders are instead categorised by their impact on small blood vessels within the heart, which, when blocked, can also lead to ischemia or reduced oxygen and blood flow.

Usually, this lack of oxygen is because of a plaque build-up in the wall of one of the heart's arteries, the usual path to supplying blood to the heart, known as the coronary arteries.

As this build-up expands, the arteries narrow, slowly obstructing blood movement and depriving the heart of oxygen and nutrients.

This plaque build-up can suddenly rupture, breaking away from the artery wall. If this occurs, a clot will form very quickly, which will then entirely block the flow of blood.

Resulting in the heart cells not getting any blood at all and completely losing function.

In other words, a heart attack will occur, causing severe chest pain, an irregular heartbeat, heart failure and, in some cases, death.

What are the symptoms of ischaemic heart disease?

In the list below are some of the common symptoms of ischaemic heart disease.

It's important to note that this list is by no means exhaustive and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis.

We recommend seeing a doctor if you experience one or more of the following symptoms.

In addition, if you experience any chest pain at all, it's essential to get this checked out by a health professional.

Some of the common symptoms of ischaemic heart disease include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Palpitations

How do I get diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease?

If you believe you or a loved one may have ischaemic heart disease, but you are yet to be diagnosed, it's important to book in with a doctor ASAP.

Typically during your appointment, your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask for your medical history, symptoms, family history in case of increased risk that could be hereditary and any lifestyle factors that may be risk factors for the condition.

In addition, you will likely have your heart, pulse and blood pressure measured.

From there, blood tests will likely be ordered to determine any markers that can be seen in your blood.

It's also common practice to conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG) to test for any unusual heart rhythms that may indicate damage to the heart.

While wearing the ECG, you may also do a stress test involving physical activity, such as being on a stationary bike or treadmill, to test how your heart responds to this physical activity.

Finally, you may be asked to take certain scans such as echocardiography, cardiac CT, or cardiac MRI to get a clearer view of your heart and blood vessels and to determine any blockages.

After your doctor has collected all of this information, they will be able to give you a diagnosis.

Remembering ischaemic heart disease is a group of diseases, so the diagnosis may be coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease.

What are the treatment options for ischaemic heart disease?

Ischaemic heart disease reduces blood flow to the heart.

Therefore, the treatment goal is to increase blood and oxygen flow to the heart to relieve symptoms, prevent further complications and reduce the risk of major heart failure.

There are several treatment options available, both surgical and non-surgical, including:

  • Lifestyle changes – Depending on the severity of the disease, lifestyle changes can help manage ischaemic heart disease. Some changes include exercise, weight loss and stress management.
  • Medications – Several medications such as antiplatelet agents, beta blocks, and cholesterol-lowering drugs can all help in various ways to reduce the risk of further disease.
  • Surgery – Depending on which specific areas of the heart are affected, surgery can help to alleviate some forms of ischaemic heart disease.

If you have been diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease, speaking with your GP about potential treatment options will be best.

The recommendations will change based on your circumstances; getting an expert opinion is essential.

Are you having trouble in the workplace because of your ischaemic heart disease?

If your ischaemic heart condition makes it difficult for you to function in your workplace, don't worry; you aren't alone.

You may be eligible for help and support within your current workplace or finding another, more supportive work environment.

Ischaemic heart disease is a supported condition under APM's Disability Employment Services.

Participation in this service is absolutely free, thanks to the Australian Government.

Through APM, you can access disability employment services to help those with illnesses, injuries and disabilities find and keep jobs.

We can guide you to find new job opportunities, plan your future and help you to organise everything you need for your job search.

We want to show you how working shouldn't negatively affect your health.

So if you want to take the next step for your ongoing health and career satisfaction and find a supportive and inclusive workplace, please reach out to our friendly team.

We offer services across more than 500 locations in Australia, so you're bound to find help nearby. Call us at 1800 276 276 to learn how we can help you.