October 26, 1995
Web posted at: 8:55 p.m. EDT
From Medical Correspondent Dan Rutz
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Heart disease is among the leading killers in the industrialized world, including the United States and Russia. And chest pain is the heart's cry for help. The problems that have sent Russian President Boris Yeltsin back to the hospital are known to millions of people worldwide.
Chest pain, or angina, occurs when the heart isn't receiving enough blood to take care of its own energy needs. Because the heart's job is to supply the body with blood, the rest of the body could suffer greatly during an angina attack.
Doctors refer to the condition as acute ischemia. The first sign is a dull, heavy pain in the center of the chest that often starts when the body is under stress. The pain might be accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, nausea and dizziness. Usually, the symptoms ease with rest. But just taking it easy doesn't fix the underlying problem.
The problem starts when the coronary blood vessels become narrowed, usually by formation of plaque along the artery walls. If the blockage becomes too severe, a heart attack occurs and the deprived heart tissue is permanently damaged. (1.3M QuickTime movie)
Plaque formation is related to high cholesterol. Obesity, poor diet, smoking and high blood pressure also increase the risk of plaque formation.
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