How to recognize the signs of coronary artery disease: ‘I was scared’

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Keith Sommers recently turned 64, one month after having triple bypass surgery.

While his father had the same operation when he was 63, a diagnosis of coronary artery disease still came as a huge shock to Sommers.

"I was scared because I've never been in the hospital before," Sommers said.

In January, Sommers developed very subtle symptoms after returning home from dinner with his wife. He says he felt heaviness in his arm and then felt a strange sensation in his chest.

Keith Sommers

"When I had that phase over my chest, I knew something different was going on," Sommers said. "There was never any pain, I never had any tightness in my chest or an elephant sitting on my chest- I never felt any of that."

Coronary artery disease or CAD is caused by a buildup of plaque, which causes arteries to narrow, limiting blood flow and oxygen to your heart.

A completely blocked artery will cause a heart attack.

While more Americans than ever are facing CAD with the aging population, fewer people are actually having to undergo medical procedures.

"I just think there's more involvement with the health care system now then there was 20 or 30 years ago," said Dr. Chiwon Hahn, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon with Henrico Doctors' Hospital.

New technology for open heart surgery, ballooning or stinting of clogged arteries has also led to easier procedures and quicker recovery times.

Hahn says it's important to recognize signs of coronary artery disease.

"Chest pain (angina), chest pressure, chest tightness, especially when a person is exercising or climbing upstairs too fast and becoming short of breath," Dr. Hahn said.

However, some symptoms like Sommers are hard to recognize.

It's important to know your risk factors for developing CAD. They include family history, age, high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, smoking or other unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.

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