Definition & Overview

Heart diseases refer to a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s function. The heart is a complex muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body in a regular rhythm. Heart diseases, also known as cardiovascular diseases, are some of the leading causes of death in the world. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a heart disease can help you prevent the condition from getting worse, thus avoiding heart failure that typically leads to death.

There are several different types of heart diseases. The most common are:

  • Hypertensive heart disease – This is a condition caused by primary or secondary hypertension. Primary hypertension has an unknown origin. However, diseases or infections in the kidneys or the adrenal glands cause secondary hypertension. High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder, which eventually leads to a heart malfunction.

  • Inflammatory heart disease – This condition is characterized by the inflammation of the heart muscle, the heart’s inner lining, or the membrane sac.

  • Ischemic heart disease – This type of heart disease occurs when the arteries leading to the heart become narrow thus the blood supply to the heart is decreased.

  • Rheumatic heart disease – This condition is caused by a rheumatic fever that damages the heart, particularly the heart valves.

  • Cerebrovascular heart disease – This is described as the narrowing of the blood vessels that originate from the heart and lead to the brain. The condition results in a cerebrovascular accident or stroke.

  • Congenital heart disease – This is present from birth, which means that you were born with malformations in the heart.

  • Heart Failure – If the heart’s muscles are too damaged and can no longer function properly to supply blood to other organs in the body, the condition is called a heart failure.

Causes

A large number of factors, such as hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, or an unhealthy diet, cause heart disease. Smoking and tobacco use, drug abuse, excessive alcohol intake, age, and family history are other common risk factors.

Key Symptoms

Each specific condition has different sets of symptoms. However, some of the most common symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pains, pain or numbness in the upper extremities, or pain in the neck, jaw, back, or in the upper abdominal area.

Heart arrhythmia (abnormal heart beat) has other symptoms such as fluttering or racing heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, lightheadedness, or slow heartbeat.

If the heart has defects, the symptoms include blue or pale gray skin colour and swelling in the legs, around the eyes, the abdomen, and upper and lower extremities.

Heart diseases caused by infections have symptoms such as, fever, weakness and fatigue, persistent coughing, skin rashes, and changes in the heart rhythm.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

The common symptoms of a heart disease can also be an indication of other diseases. It is best if you consult your doctor to determine the exact cause of the symptoms. If you experience chest pains, shortness of breath, or fainting, proceed immediately to a hospital’s emergency department to receive treatment. The faster you receive treatment, the better your chances of surviving a heart attack.

In order to diagnose a heart disease, your doctor will have you undergo a number of tests that include an electrocardiogram (ECG), echocardiogram, Holter monitoring, cardiac catheterization, CT scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). You’ll also undergo blood tests and chest x-rays.

Once the doctor has identified the exact heart condition, treatment will be initiated. If the condition is not severe, treatment options will include medications to control the heart disease, and simple lifestyle changes. However, if the condition is life-threatening, you’ll need to undergo heart surgery.

There are a variety of surgical procedures for heart diseases. If the doctor determines that the problem is that one or more of the valves are not functioning, you’ll need to undergo valve repair or valve replacement surgery. This can be done through open-heart surgery or minimally invasive surgical techniques.

Heart diseases that involve blockage of arteries leading to the heart can be treated in different ways. If the blockage is not severe, medications can help open the artery so that more blood flows to the heart.

However, if the artery is completely blocked, you’ll need to undergo coronary angiogram with stenting to remove the blockage by widening the artery and placing a stent to prevent it from collapsing.

If the damage to the heart is too severe and can no longer be repaired, you’ll be listed as a candidate for a heart transplant. This means that you’ll need to wait for a heart donor. While you’re waiting, you’ll be connected to an artificial heart, which is a device connected to major blood vessels that pumps blood throughout your body.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a heart disease, or if you want to prevent one from developing, you’ll need to have a healthy lifestyle. This includes having the right diet, staying away from high cholesterol food, quitting smoking, drinking alcohol moderately, and exercising at least 30 minutes a day. If you’re obese, you’ll need to lose weight, as obesity is one of the leading causes of heart diseases.

If you have other diseases that result in a heart disease, make sure that you receive treatment for that disease. Diabetes is also known to cause heart disease, but if you keep it under control, the risk of developing a heart disease is significantly reduced.

You should also know that stress could contribute to the development of a heart disease. You can either become familiar with stress management techniques, or try to avoid stressful situations.

Depression also causes heart disease. If you often feel depressed, consult your doctor. Not only does the condition cause heart disease, but it can also lead to psychological problems.

Always remember that heart diseases are the leading causes of death around the world. Fortunately, they can be treated as long as they are detected early. Living a healthy lifestyle and performing an adequate amount of exercises on a daily basis can also prevent them.

References:

  • American Heart Association - www.americanheart.org
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/
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