Heart disease is a term used for describing a number of conditions affecting the heart. This includes blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease; arrhythmias (problems with the rhythm of the heart) and congenital heart defects among many others. Heart disease is also known as cardiovascular disease, but the latter is a term used for conditions involving narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can eventually cause chest pain, a heart attack and stroke. What people should be aware of is that most forms of heart disease can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Types of Heart Disease
There are numerous types of heart disease but here are the more common ones:
- Coronary Artery Disease: This is known as the number 1 killer in the United States affecting over 13 million Americans.
- Enlarged Heart (Cardiomegaly): There are several possible causes for it is typically a result of hypertension (high blood pressure) or coronary artery disease.
- Irregular Heart Rhythm: Also called an arrhythmia where the heart is not functioning properly due to several possible causes.
- Atrial Fibrillation: This is a form of irregular heartbeat and it is the most common one.
- Congenital Heart Disease: Also known as congenital heart anomaly, it is a defect in the structure of the heart and great vessels that are already present when a person is born.
Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease
There are different signs and symptoms for particular types of heart disease but here are the heart symptoms that should not be ignored:
- Chest Discomfort: This is a classic sign of heart disease but in some cases may also indicate digestive problems. If you have chest discomfort, it would be best to seek medical help immediately since it could be a sign that you are about to have a heart attack.
- Anxiety: Having a heart attack typically causes intense anxiety. People who have survived a heart attack usually say they experienced a sense of “impending doom” during the attack.
- Rapid Or Irregular Pulse: It is normal to have a skipped heartbeat now and then but an irregular or rapid pulse can be evidence of heart failure, a heart attack or arrhythmia. This is especially the case when it is accompanied by shortness of breath, dizziness and weakness.
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Causes and Risk Factors
Cardiovascular diseases are usually caused by correctable problems like lack of physical activity, an unhealthy diet, smoking and being overweight. Take note that the causes differ from one heart disease to another.
Heart arrhythmias are usually caused by heart defects, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, smoking and other lifestyle factors. Heart infections can be caused by parasites, bacteria or viruses.
Here are the top risk factors for developing heart disease:
- Age: Getting the older increases* risk of damaged and narrowed arteries or the weakening/thickening of the heart.
- Sex: Generally, men have a higher risk of developing heart disease. The risk of heart disease increases* after a woman goes through menopause.
- Family History: Having a family history of heart disease increases* a person’s risk of coronary artery disease especially if it involves a parent that developed it before the age of 55 (for men) or 65 (for women).
- Smoking: Nicotine causes the blood vessels to constrict, and carbon monoxide can cause damage to their inner lining making a person more likely to develop atherosclerosis.
- Poor Diet: A diet high in fat, salt, cholesterol and sugar can increase* the risk of developing heart disease.
Tests and Diagnosis
The first step to getting diagnosed is a doctor’s examination that is usually followed by blood tests. Then he/she may order tests like an EKG, chest x-ray, stress test, tilt table test, echocardiogram, etc. depending on what is suspected.
Treatments and Medications
The treatments for heart disease depend on the particular condition. For example, heart infections are typically treated with antibiotics. Generally, the treatments for heart disease include the following:
- Lifestyle changes: This includes following a low-fat and low-sodium diet, getting regular exercise, quitting smoking and limiting or eliminating alcohol intake.
- Medications: Prescription medications can help control heart disease. The medication depends on the particular form of heart disease.
- Surgery or Medical Procedures: If medications and lifestyle changes are not enough, specific procedures or surgery may be needed depending on the particular heart disease and extent of damage to the heart.
Precautions and Self Care
Living a healthy lifestyle is very important when it comes to preventing or controlling heart diseases. Of course, it is also imperative to be supervised closely by a physician. If you have a high risk of heart disease, you need to get a regular check-up. One of the best ways to prevent heart disease is by not smoking or quitting the nasty habit. This will also decrease* your risk of developing many other health problems.