Heart Disease

What is heart disease?

Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects), among others.

The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with the term "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart's muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.

Cardiovascular 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 symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.

Symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
     
  • Shortness of breath
     
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed
     
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back


You might not be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure. It's important to watch for cardiovascular symptoms and discuss concerns with your doctor. Cardiovascular disease can sometimes be found early with regular evaluations.

Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.


 

Risk Factors

Smoking increases the risk. Tobacco can:

  • Increase inflammation and cause more cholesterol to deposit in coronary arteries.
     
  • A woman who smokes 20 cigarettes a day is six times more likely to develop CHD than a woman who has never smoked.
     
  • Men who smoke regularly are three times more likely to develop CHD compared with men who have never smoked.
     
  • The following factors increase the risk:

 

As people age the risk increases:

  • Men are more likely to develop CHD, although the risk for women is still significant, especially after menopause.
     
  • Having a parent who developed CHD before the age of 60 years increases the risk of developing it.
     
  • Uncontrolled hypertension, or high blood pressure, causes arteries to thicken and narrow, reducing blood flow.
     
  • High blood cholesterol increases the chance of plaque building up, and this makes atherosclerosis more likely.
     
  • Lack of exercise increases the risk, as does poor diet, including consumption of processed meat, trans fats, and fast foods.
     
  • Long-term emotional and mental stress have been linked with damage to arteries.

 

Some risk factors are not lifestyle-related. These may include:

  • High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid produced by the body. Studies have linked it to a higher incidence of CHD.
     
  • High levels of fibrinogen, a blood protein involved in the blood clotting process. Excess levels may encourage the clumping of platelets, resulting in the formation of clots.

 

 

Diagnosis

Your doctor may order several types of tests and evaluations to make a heart disease diagnosis. Some of these tests can be performed before you ever show signs of heart disease. Others may be used to look for possible causes of symptoms when they develop.

Physical examination, medical history and a number of tests can help to diagnose CHD including:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): This records the electrical activity and rhythms of the heart.
     
  • Holter monitor: This is a portable device that the patient wears under their clothes for 2 days or more. It records all the electrical activity of the heart, including the heartbeats.
     
  • Echocardiogram: This is an ultrasound scan that checks the pumping heart. It uses sound waves to provide a video image.
     
  • Stress test: This may involve the use of a treadmill or medication that stresses the heart.
     
  • Coronary catheterization: A dye is injected into the heart arteries through a catheter that is threaded through an artery, often in the leg or arm, to the arteries in the heart. An X-ray then detects narrow spots or blockages revealed by the dye.
     
  • CT scans: These help the doctor to visualize the arteries, detect any calcium within fatty deposits that narrow coronary arteries, and to characterize other heart abnormalities.
     
  • Nuclear ventriculography: This uses tracers, or radioactive materials, to show the heart chambers. The material is injected into the vein. It attaches to red blood cells and passes through the heart. Special cameras or scanners trace the movement of the material.
     
  • Blood tests: These can measure blood cholesterol levels, especially in people who are over 40 years old, have a family history of heart or cholesterol-related conditions, are overweight, and have high blood pressure or another condition, such as an underactive thyroid gland, or any condition which may elevate blood levels of cholesterol.


 

Treatment

CHD cannot be cured, but with today's technology, it can be managed effectively. Treatment involves lifestyle changes, and possibly some medical procedures and medications. Lifestyle recommendations include quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.

Medications include:

  • Statins
     
  • Low-dose aspirin
     
  • Beta blockers
     
  • Nitroglycerin patches, sprays, or tablets
     
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
     
  • Calcium channel blockers

 

 

# HEART DISEASE BY THE NUMBERS #
  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
     
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.
     
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually.
     
  • Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.

 

 

 

 

 


Sources:

  • “Heart Disease Facts & Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.
  • “Heart Disease.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353118.
  • “Heart Disease: Risk Factors, Prevention, and More.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/health/heart-disease.
  • Nordqvist, Christian. “Coronary Heart Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 19 Jan. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/184130.php.
  • “What Is Cardiovascular Disease?” Www.heart.org, www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease.
NOTE: The information on this page and any information found on healtheo360 is not a substitution for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, CALL 911 immediately. See additional information about our Terms & Conditions.

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