Understanding Heart Diseases
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Understanding Heart Diseases

Post by on Tuesday, December 14, 2021

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Heart disease includes a range of conditions that affect one's heart like - coronary artery disease (blood vessel disease of the heart), heart arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), congenital heart disease (inborn heart defects), heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), and heart infections.

Heart disease signs and symptoms depend on what type of heart disease one has. However, the basic symptoms that warrant immediate medical attention include chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting.


Coronary Artery Disease

A buildup of fatty plaques in one's arteries (atherosclerosis) is the most common cause of coronary artery disease. Unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking can lead to atherosclerosis.

Coronary artery disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain. Women are more likely to have other signs and symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue. Signs and symptoms in general can include:

·        Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina).

·        Shortness of breath.

·        Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in one's legs or arms.

·        Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back.


Heart Arrhythmias

One's heart may beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. Common causes of arrhythmias or conditions that can lead to arrhythmias include – coronary artery disease, diabetes, drug abuse, excessive use of alcohol or caffeine, heart defects one is born with (congenital heart defects), high blood pressure, smoking, some over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies, stress, and certain valvular heart disease. Heart arrhythmia signs and symptoms include:

·        Fluttering in your chest.

·        Racing heartbeat (tachycardia).

·        Slow heartbeat (bradycardia).

·        Chest pain or discomfort.

·        Shortness of breath.

·        Lightheadedness.

·        Dizziness.

·        Fainting (syncope) or near fainting.


Congenital Heart Disease

Serious heart defects that one is born with (congenital heart defects) usually are noticed soon after birth. Some medical conditions, medications and genes may play a role in causing heart defects. Heart defect signs and symptoms in children could include:

·        Pale gray or blue skin colour (cyanosis).

·        Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes.

·        In an infant, shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain.

·        Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet.



It is a thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle, may depend on the type:

Dilated cardiomyopathy: It is the most common type that may be caused by reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemic heart disease) resulting from damage after a heart attack, infections, toxins and certain drugs, including those used to treat cancer. It may also be inherited from a parent.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: This type usually is passed down through families (inherited). It can also develop over time because of high blood pressure or aging.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy: This least common type of cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscle to become rigid and less elastic may be caused by diseases, such as connective tissue disorders or the build up of abnormal proteins (amyloidosis).

In early stages of cardiomyopathy, one may experience no symptoms. As the condition worsens, symptoms may include:

·        Breathlessness with activity or at rest.

·        Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet.

·        Fatigue.

·        Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding or fluttering.

·        Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting.


Heart Infection

Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner lining of one's heart chambers and heart valves (endocardium). It is caused when germs reach one's heart muscle. The most common causes of heart infection include bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Signs and symptoms can include:

·        Fever.

·        Shortness of breath.

·        Weakness or fatigue.

·        Swelling in one's legs or abdomen.

·        Changes in one's heart rhythm.

·        Dry or persistent cough.

·        Skin rashes or unusual spots.


Valvular Heart Disease

The heart has four valves — the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valves — that open and close to direct blood flow through one's heart. Many things can damage one's heart valves – one may be born with valvular disease, or the valves may be damaged by conditions such as, rheumatic fever, infections (infectious endocarditis), or connective tissue disorders – leading to narrowing (stenosis), leaking (regurgitation or insufficiency) or improper closing (prolapse). Depending on which valve isn't working properly, valvular heart disease signs and symptoms generally include:

·        Fatigue.

·        Shortness of breath.

·        Irregular heartbeat.

·        Swollen feet or ankles.

·        Chest pain.

·        Fainting (syncope).


Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Age: Growing older increases one's risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and a weakened or thickened heart muscle.

Sex: Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. The risk for women increases after menopause.

Family History: A family history of heart disease increases one's risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age.

Smoking: Nicotine tightens one's blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in non-smokers.

Poor Diet: A diet that's high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.

High Blood Pressure: Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of one's arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.

High Blood Cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in one's blood can increase the risk of plaque formation and atherosclerosis.

Diabetes: Diabetes increases one's risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors – such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Obesity: Excess weight typically worsens other heart disease risk factors.

Physical Inactivity: Lack of exercise is also associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors as well.

STRESS: Unrelieved stress may damage one's arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.

Poor Dental Health: If one's teeth and gums aren't healthy, germs can enter their bloodstream and travel to their heart – causing endocarditis.


Prevention of Heart Disease

In general, a healthy lifestyle is the key. Recommendations include: 

Controlling high blood pressure: This is one of the most important things one can do to reduce their heart disease risk – exercising, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting the amount of sodium in diet and avoiding alcohol can all help to keep high blood pressure in check. In addition to recommending lifestyle changes, one may need to take medications to treat high blood pressure.

Controlling diabetes: One can manage diabetes with diet, exercise, weight control and medications.

Lowering the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in one's diet: Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats may reduce the plaque formation in arteries. Besides dietary changes, one may need to take cholesterol-lowering medications.

Exercising regularly: Exercise reduces risk of heart disease in many ways. It can lower blood pressure, increase the level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and improve the overall health of blood vessels and heart. It also helps in losing weight, controlling diabetes and reducing stress.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: A diet containing five or more daily servings of fruits or vegetables may reduce risk of heart disease. Following a diet which emphasizes olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables and whole grains may be helpful.

Quitting tobacco use: Smoking raises the risk of heart disease for smokers and non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. So, quitting tobacco use reduces risk of heart disease.

Avoiding alcohol: It can be a risk factor for heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption increases risk of high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease and heart attack.

Avoiding drug abuse: Certain drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, are established risk factors for ischemic heart disease.

Maintaining good oral-dental hygiene: It is important to brush and floss one's teeth and gums often, and have regular dental check-ups. 

Anti-platelet drugs are commonly used as preventive medications. Platelets are cells in one's blood that form clots. Anti-platelet drugs make these cells less sticky and less likely to clot. The most commonly used anti-platelet medication is aspirin.

Anticoagulants: The drugs, which include heparin and warfarin reduce blood clotting. Heparin is fast acting and may be used over a short period of time in the hospital. Slower acting warfarin may be used over a longer term.

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