Heart disease has long occupied the infamous position of the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., but that doesn’t prevent millions of people from failing to heed the early warning signs.


“Many patients with coronary artery disease have symptoms that are clinically silent, but when we examine them, we find out they have heart disease,” said Raghunandan Muppidi, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital. “People should be aware that the disease is significantly underdiagnosed and should visit their doctor regularly.”


Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries of the heart become narrow and harden, which can lead to blockages and blood clots. Several factors, including genetics, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, poor diet, physical inactivity and smoking may contribute to the disease. Muppidi said recognizing the presence of risk factors and symptoms is crucial in avoiding a medical emergency such as a heart attack.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year and over 15 million have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease—the most common type of heart disease. In Texas, an estimated 1.5 million people are living with the disease. Muppidi emphasizes that many lives are lost each year due to complications from undiagnosed heart disease.


“Angina, whose symptoms include chest pains with exertion or after having a meal or after exposure to cold, is the most commonly reported symptom of coronary artery disease, but symptoms can vary from patient to patient.” Muppidi said. “For example, in some female and diabetic patients, the typical pattern of angina is not experienced, and chest pains may be replaced by symptoms such as arm, neck and shoulder pain, shortness of breath, nausea, or episodes of sweating.”


Muppidi said modifying lifestyle-related risk factors, such as improving your diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, is the best strategy for avoiding heart disease.


“Recognizing their risk factors and visiting their primary care physician regularly to get screened for medical conditions that may lead to the disease are the most important things patients can do,” Muppidi said. “If patients have symptoms, I recommend scheduling a stress test and following up with their primary care physician, especially if there’s a family history of the disease.”


Coronary artery disease treatment options include medications to help lower cholesterol levels and high blood pressure and surgery to insert a tiny device called a stent to open blocked arteries.


“The spectrum of the disease presents itself differently for many people. It could signal its presence with a heart attack in people who weren’t aware they had any blockage,” Muppidi said. “Seeing your doctor before any problems arise is a very good idea.”


For more information and to schedule an appointment with a Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital cardiology specialist, visit houstonmethodist.org/baytown or call 281.837.7587.