Heart disease is a general term used when the heart is not functioning adequately. There are many different types of heart disease and it can result from either mechanical or electrical problems.
The most common type of heart disease is called Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which can cause many mechanical problems within the heart. The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscles. In CAD, these arteries become blocked and blood is unable to provide the heart muscles with oxygen. Heart muscles are unable to survive without oxygen. When heart muscles die from lack of oxygen, it is called a heart attack. With less living heart muscles, the heart cannot mechanically pump blood as well and the patient may develop heart failure.
Another type of Heart Disease is caused by the heart not pumping at the correct rate or in regular intervals. Patients usually present with palpitations. When the heartbeat is irregular or out of sync, the heart cannot pump efficiently as the electrical impulses are not timed and occur sporadically. If left untreated, some conditions may lead to serious problems such as stroke.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Many symptoms may be signs of heart disease. Patients with CAD typically develop chest pain that occurs with physical exertion. During physical activity, the heart requires more oxygen than usual. Pain occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen. Some patients may only get pain with more strenuous exercise, such as running or jogging. Patients with more severe disease may have pain with moderate exertion, such as climbing stairs or walking. The pain is usually relieved by resting.
Other symptoms that may indicate heart disease include shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Patients with heart disease may get short of breath on exertion or when lying flat at night (common). Some patients must sleep with their heads elevated by pillows to make breathing easier. Patients may also develop dizziness or lightheadedness when the heart is not pumping enough blood. Occasionally, patients may even lose consciousness.
Risk Factors for Developing Heart Disease
The most significant risk factors for developing heart disease include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Other conditions that contribute to heart disease include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, poor dietary habits, diabetes, alcohol use, obstructive sleep apnea and use of certain illicit drugs. Be aware of your family history. Having a male first-degree relative who suffered a heart attack before age 55 or a female first-degree relative before the age of 65 indicates a particularly high risk.
Usually Heart Disease is diagnosed with a series of tests including:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – Sometimes referred to as an “EKG.” This test looks at the electrical activity of the heart. Leads are placed on the chest to read the electrical signals.
- Echocardiogram – Sometimes referred to as an “Echo.” This ultrasound test looks at the structures of the heart and how well it pumps blood. Echocardiograms can also evaluate the valves between the chambers. Injured valves cause murmurs, or the irregular flow of blood, which may cause damage to the heart over time.
- Stress Test — Many different types of stress tests can determine if you may have CAD. A common type of stress test is the treadmill test.
- Cardiac Catheterization – This procedure is used to check your coronary arteries for blockages. This can also be used to open up the blockages. Opening of blockages is called an “angioplasty.”
Treatment for heart disease can vary greatly depending on the type of disease and severity. Most people with heart disease need to take multiple medications. Patients commonly need medications adjusted and should see their primary care provider regularly. Sometimes patients may need to have a cardiac catheterization performed. During this procedure, a stent can be placed in the coronary arteries to open blockages.
You can reduce your risk of heart disease in several ways. Smoking plays a significant role in the development of heart disease, among many other health problems. It is always recommended to stop smoking. Many resources are available to make quitting smoking easier and success more likely. Do not be discouraged if you have failed to quit in the past.
Healthy diet and exercise habits are essential to heart health. Many resources are available to find a diet plan that will best suit your lifestyle. An active lifestyle is also essential to maintain good cardiovascular health.
Make an Appointment
Make an appointment today to discuss any concerns you may have with a healthcare provider. You can be evaluated and given instructions on how to reduce your heart disease risk. It is important to schedule yearly appointments with a primary care provider. Even if you currently believe you’re healthy, regular visits to a healthcare provider can prevent future health issues. During these appointments, your physician can evaluate your risk factors for heart disease. Many risk factors, such high blood pressure or high cholesterol, may go undetected for years unless you are properly evaluated. These conditions generally do not cause signs and symptoms until significant damage has already occurred. Discovering these problems early is essential to prevent their damaging effects on the body.