A healthy heart helps maintain the health of all other organs in the body, including the brain. Yet, most people are at an increased risk of heart disease due to lifestyle choices. Most heart diseases are preventable by making a few lifestyle changes. They include things like exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease leads to most deaths in the United States. So common is heart disease that one in every four people will die of heart disease. Heart or cardiovascular disease refers to a class of conditions that affect the functioning of the heart. These conditions can include;
- Heart arrhythmias
- Coronary artery disease
- Congenital heart defects
- Heart valve defects
- Heart muscle disease
Types of Heart Disease
Heart disease occurs in many forms. Each exhibits different symptoms and requires specific treatment plans.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. CAD occurs as a result of a blockage in the heart arteries. This results in limited blood and oxygen flow to the heart muscle. One of the symptoms of CAD is chest pain. CAD is the leading cause of most heart attacks most of the time.
Coronary artery disease risk factors include;
- Age, where the risk increases after the age of 55 for men and after menopause for women
- Conditions like metabolic syndrome and diabetes
- Family history of CAD
- Lack of physical activity
- High blood pressure
- High levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol
- Stress and anxiety
When heart disease reaches heart failure level, the heart is not pumping blood as it should. Heart failure occurs due to CAD, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy.
Heart arrhythmias refer to irregular heartbeat patterns. Arrhythmias occur on their own or due to underlying medical conditions.
Heart Valve Disease
The heart consists of four valves that open and close as blood flows through the heart chambers. Heart valve disease occurs when these valves are abnormal. It results in blood flow blockage or blood leakage. Heart valve disease can be due to conditions like congenital heart disease, high blood pressure, and rheumatic fever. It can also occur if you have had a heart attack recently.
Also referred to as heart muscle disease, cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart’s muscles thicken, stiffen or stretch. When that happens, the heart becomes too weak to pump blood well. The disease occurs after a viral infection or exposure to toxins like alcohol. It can also happen if you have undiagnosed genetic heart conditions. Chemotherapy treatment can also cause cardiomyopathy. However, it’s usually hard to pinpoint the exact cause in most cases.
The pericardium is the sac that surrounds the heart. If the pericardium is diseased, it results in pericardial disease. Inflammation and pericarditis are the two leading causes of pericardial disease. It usually occurs after a bacterial or viral infection like rheumatoid arthritis.
Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease occurs due to deformities as a child develops in the womb. These abnormalities can cause heart problems after birth. However, symptoms may not appear until the child becomes an adult in some cases. The most common abnormalities are septal abnormalities. These are holes that form in the wall of the heart.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
The symptoms of heart disease differ from one person to another. Some heart conditions don’t even cause any symptoms. General signs and symptoms that could point to a heart problem include;
- Chest pain or angina
- Breathing difficulties
- Edema or swelling as a result of fluid retention
- Lightheadedness and fatigue
- The symptoms may consist of skin color that changes to a blue tinge in children.
- Inability to engage in physical activity and cyanosis
Some heart diseases could lead to an eventual heart attack. Symptoms of a heart attack include;
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Abnormal heart palpitations
- Abdominal pain and fatigue
- Pain in the arm, back, jaw, and leg
- Excessive sweating
- A shocking feeling or sensation
- An irregular heartbeat
If a heart attack is not addressed, it can lead to cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition. The heart stops functioning, and organs begin to fail.
Diagnosis of Heart Disease
The doctor will order several tests to diagnose heart disease. Some of the tests can even be done before symptoms show.
Physical exam: The doctor will go through your medical history and symptoms. They will also go through your family medical history. This determines if genetics could be the reason for your heart disease.
An electrocardiogram test (ECG or EKG): helps the doctor spot heart irregularities. This is done by monitoring the electrical activity of the heart.
Blood tests: Blood tests test for cholesterol levels in the blood. A blood test will also check for inflammation due to an infection.
Echocardiogram: This is a kind of ultrasound test. It helps the doctor get a better picture of the structure of your heart.
Stress test: The test is conducted during strenuous physical activities like running, walking, or riding an indoor bike.
Holter monitor: The specialist will ask you to wear a heart rate monitor for 24 hours or more. This monitors your heart’s activity for a given period.
CT and MRI scan: These scans provide a more detailed picture of your heart plus blood vessels.
Carotid ultrasound: This test helps the doctor get a better picture of the structure of your arteries.
How to Treat Heart Disease
Treatment for heart disease will depend on the form of the disease. Treatment options include making lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery.
Most heart diseases are preventable. Lifestyles changes include exercising more, quitting smoking, and eating a healthy diet. You also need to maintain healthy body weight.
Sometimes, the doctor will prescribe certain medications to treat heart disease. These include anticoagulants, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and beta-blockers. Others are calcium channel blockers and angiotensin receptor neprilysin inhibitors. Medicines to lower cholesterol, digitalis, diuretics, and vasodilators will also help.
If medications are ineffective, surgery can help correct specific heart problems. Surgical options include coronary artery bypass, coronary angiography, valve replacement, and repair surgery. Sometimes devices like balloon catheters and pacemakers help the heart to beat well. In addition, laser treatment helps treat conditions like angina.
How to Live With and Manage Heart Disease
If you have heart disease, here are ways you can make sure the condition doesn’t progress;
- Switch to a healthier lifestyle. Exercise more, eat healthy meals, quit smoking, and maintain healthy body weight.
- Keep your cholesterol and blood sugar levels in check by going for regular checks ups
- Find better ways of managing stress since stress can worsen heart disease
- Is heart disease curable? Heart disease can’t be reversed nor cured. However, you can relieve most of the symptoms through medications and lifestyle changes. Undergoing surgical procedures can also help correct certain damages.
- What dietary changes do I need to make to reduce my risk of heart disease? Eating healthy meals can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Dietary changes could mean eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It could also mean cutting down on saturated fats and salt.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!