Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is a serious medical condition in which plaques or atheromatous (a mixture of inflammatory cells, cholesterol, and calcium) deposits accumulate in the inner lumen of the arteries supplying oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscles. The usually elastic and smooth walls of these arteries can gradually turn stiff and narrow due to these deposits. Reduction or loss of blood supply can cause ischemia and gradual or sudden death of the heart muscles. The plaques can break off and cause obstruction leading to a heart attack, stroke, or other symptoms according to the body part affected.
Angina or chest pain is the commonest symptom, though it may be experienced or described by individuals in different ways such as aching, burning, squeezing, numbness, tightness or heaviness. Though the chest is the commonest area, these symptoms may be referred to other areas such as arms, back, neck, jaw and shoulder. A major pitfall is that individuals may mistake the symptoms for indigestion or heartburn. Other commonly experienced symptoms include sweating, nausea, fatigue, breathlessness, and palpitations. Risk factors for this condition include old age, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, male sex, race, family history, high stress, smoking, lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating.
CAD can be diagnosed by a detailed medical history, a physical examination, some specific blood tests, and with the help of additional tests such as ECG, 2D-echo test, CT scan, stress test and angiogram. The treatment for CAD involves lifestyle changes such as stopping or at least cutting down of smoking and alcohol consumption; reduction in stress using relaxation and breathing techniques; reducing weight using diet changes and graded exercises; and controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and high cholesterol. Diet changes include reduction in sugar, salt and fat use, and an increase in the use of vegetables, fruits, lean meats and whole grains. The optimum consumption of fats involves consuming unsaturated fats like olive oil, groundnut oil, avocados, nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts, and seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower; and avoiding saturated and trans fat items such as butter, ghee, lard, cakes, biscuits, bacon, cheese, fried foods, and margarine.
Medications used by the allopathic (modern) system of medicine include aspirin, cholesterol-lowering drugs, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, nitroglycerine, ACE-inhibitors, and other medications to reduce and control blood pressure. Surgical procedures used for CAD include balloon angioplasty, stent placement, and coronary artery bypass graft surgery. Some new, research methods include the use of stem cells to induce collateral circulation (angiogenesis), and an outpatient procedure known as enhanced external counter-pulsation (inflatable cuffs attached to the legs), to be used in a few select patients.
CAD can cause arrhythmia, heart attack and heart failure. The pathophysiology of CAD may commence in early childhood and manifest in later adult life. There is no full and final cure for this process; however, there are many modifiable factors responsible for the disease – as detailed above – which can be addressed in order to control and keep this process from progressing and causing undue morbidity and mortality.
Ayurvedic herbal treatment can be judiciously utilised to significantly reverse this unrelenting CAD pathophysiology. Herbal medicines help to treat inflammation, and reduce or prevent atherosclerosis. Dietary advice is important in reducing weight. The arteries can be kept elastic and less prone to damage and rupture by invoking a right combination of herbal medicines, exercises, yogic asanas like shavasana; breathing techniques like “bhastrika” and “anulom” and “pratilom” techniques; and body massage and fomentation. Ayurveda advocates the right use of oils and medicated ghee (clarified butter) to treat CAD; these can be used both locally and orally with good results.
Herbal and herbo-mineral medications can be effectively used to treat heart disease right from the early, asymptomatic stage to the later stages of enlargement and failure. Panchkarma treatment modalities like medicated enemas (basti) and “hridaya-basti” (localized chest treatment) can help strengthen fatigued heart muscles and hardened arteries. Recurrent attacks of chest pain (angina) can be effectively treated using Ayurvedic medications; Ayurvedic medicines and treatment modalities are more effective than modern medicines in treating such episodes where no specific pathology can be detected using diagnostic methods. Confirmed heart vessel blocks can be effectively reversed using Ayurvedic treatment on a long term basis.
A judicious combination of modern diagnostic methods, basic modern medicines to control symptoms, and additional Ayurvedic treatment can be effectively utilized to completely cure CAD on a long term basis. Ayurvedic medicines can also effectively treat associated conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It is important to note that an acute attack of CAD should not be ignored or taken lightly, and all affected individuals should be referred to a hospital as soon as possible.