General Health

Heart Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

The cardiovascular system is a critical part of ensuring the body can continue to function.

At the center of the cardiovascular system is the heart, an organ that pumps blood through the body.

While the cardiovascular system is usually able to perform its functions, there are cases where disease, inflammation, and other factors can damage heart health. In these cases, heart disease may develop.

Different types of diseases affect the cardiovascular system. Some of these can lead to fatal complications, especially when the condition is not identified and treated at an early stage.

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a term that is used to describe a large number of conditions that are known to affect the cardiovascular system.

Common conditions that tend to be classified under the category of heart disease include:

  • Coronary artery disease: a condition where the coronary arteries become narrowed. In some cases, the narrowing of these arteries may be caused by a blockage. The condition is also known as atherosclerosis.

  • Arrhythmias: Abnormalities with the rhythm of the heartbeat. While not a condition itself, it is often considered an indication of a more serious problem that the patient has developed. An arrhythmia may present in different ways, including as an irregular pattern in the rhythm of the heartbeat.

  • Congenital heart defect: This heart condition affects the heart’s structure that is present from birth. Among all types of congenital disabilities, problems with the heart seem to be the most prevalent. Different types of congenital heart disease may affect a newborn baby, including issues with the heart valves, the arteries that are in a close perimeter to the heart, and the walls of the organ.

  • Valvular heart disease: Valve disease is caused by damage that has occurred with a heart valve. In some cases, the disease also refers to defects that affect one or more of these valves. The heart has four valves that can be affected. These include the pulmonary, tricuspid, aortic, and mitral valves.

  • Cardiomyopathy: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy affects the heart muscle. The condition makes it more difficult for the heart to effectively pump blood throughout the entire body. In turn, this can cause heart damage, with a particular focus being placed on the progression to heart failure.

  • Infections of the heart: Infection occurs when microorganisms attach to the heart and start to reproduce. Various types of microorganisms, including bacterium strains, can cause infection of the heart. This can lead to life-threatening complications.

The development of these conditions can cause difficulty with the heart’s ability to pump blood, as well as increase the risk of experiencing complications such as heart attacks, strokes, and more.

High blood pressure, a condition referred to as hypertension, is another essential factor to notice. This condition can lead to blood vessel damage and also lead to problems with the heart.

Symptoms Of Heart Disease

Several symptoms may occur when a patient develops heart disease. The specific symptoms that may be experienced depending on the particular heart disease and can include:

  • chest pain (angina)

  • pain, weakness or numb legs and/or arms

  • breathlessness

  • very fast or slow heartbeat, or palpitations

  • feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint

  • fatigue

  • swollen limbs

  • there may also be an irregular heartbeat

Other Symptoms To Be Wary Of

Apart from the symptoms that we mentioned above, there are other signs that patients should also take note of. This is especially important when considering the possibility of complications like heart attacks and heart failure. These complications can occur in the presence of various heart diseases.

With a heart attack, one of the first symptoms that the patient will experience is a tightness or pressure feeling in their chest. Some may describe this is a squeezing sensation. At the same time, these symptoms would usually be accompanied by pain. The pain would not only affect the chest but will generally spread to surrounding areas as well.

Most people find that the pain experienced in their chest will start to spread toward the neck, back, arms, and jaw.

In addition to the pain and chest tightness, shortness of breath is another common symptom that would accompany the pain. There may also be a cold sweat, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, and the patient may suddenly feel dizzy. In some cases, abdominal pain may also be experienced.

Risk factors for Heart Disease

The development of heart disease can be linked to a number of potential risk factors. In cases of congenital heart defects, the problems with the patient’s heart would have developed before birth.

There are several risk factors for CVD, including:

  • Smoking: according to one study, a person who smokes has a 70% higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease compared to a person who does not smoke. Smoking causes an increase in blood pressure levels, which can eventually lead to hypertension. Smoking raises the risk of an unwanted blood clot and makes it more likely that platelets will stick together.

  • Stress: Stress is a risk factor for heart disease and can increase inflammation in your body. This in turn has been linked to chronic diseases.

  • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can result in raised blood pressure, one of the most important risk factors for having a heart attack or a stroke.

  • Sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea may also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation. 

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure refers to the heart pumping blood harder through the blood vessels. This ensures that blood flow can be pushed throughout the entire body, but does have implications for the arteries. With continuous high blood pressure, blood vessels become damaged. This is a major cause of certain heart diseases and also considered a factor that contributes to heart attacks.

  • High cholesterol levels: Cholesterol is a type of fatty substance that enters the bloodstream. There are different kinds of cholesterol. When total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels increase in the body, it can cause plaque buildup to collect in the lining of blood vessels. A high cholesterol level is often paired up with other blood level imbalances. For example, high triglyceride levels or high blood sugar.

  • Being physically inactive: A report by the World Health Organization states that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with all causes of mortality. This means it leads to a significant increase in the risk of diabetes mellitus, heart disease, lipid disorders, and more. Adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.

  • Being overweight or obese: Obesity has a significant adverse impact on the human body. According to one study, there is a strong link between obesity and a substantial increase in the risk of heart disease. It is also important to note that obesity causes metabolic syndrome.

  • Diabetes: Diabetes is another direct cause of certain heart diseases.
    With diabetes, the damage is done to several parts of the body, including the blood vessels and nerves.

  • Family history of heart disease: Research has strongly linked the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease to family history.

  • Ethnic background: According to The British Heart Foundation, if you’re South Asian, you’re more likely to develop coronary heart disease than white Europeans. if you’re African or African Caribbean, you’re at higher risk of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke than other ethnic groups.

  • Sex: Research shows that men are more likely to get CVD earlier than women.

  • Age: The risk of cardiovascular health problems increases as you age.

Diagnosis Of Heart Disease

Diagnosing cardiovascular disease is a procedure that may involve multiple tests. This is because several diseases are affecting the heart and cardiovascular system that may lead to similar symptoms.

The process of diagnosing heart disease starts with a physical examination by the physician. The physician will also need to ask the patient several questions about the symptoms that they experience.

It would also be important for the physician to look at the patient’s medical history. Certain pharmaceutical drugs cause side-effects like a faster heart rate.

Blood tests would be one of the first options that the physician may consider. In addition to blood tests, other diagnostic tools may also be used to gain more accurate data – and to detect specific abnormalities. These diagnostic tools and tests may include:

  • MRI scans, also known as magnetic resonance imaging scans.

  • Echocardiogram.

  • Coronary angiography.

  • Electrocardiogram, more commonly known simply as an ECG.

  • Radionuclide tests.

In some cases, the physician may also advise the patient to undergo X-ray tests.

The data collected will help the physician determine what type of heart disease the patient is suffering from. This data would then be used to develop a treatment plan that targets the symptoms and the specific condition that is diagnosed.

Complications

Several complications can develop when a patient has heart disease. The risk of suffering from complications associated with heart disease is significantly increased when the diagnosis and treatment are not implemented during an early stage.

It is important to note that complications that may occur depending on the specific heart disease that the patient has developed.

Some of the most important complications of heart disease that patients do need to be wary of include:

  • Heart attack: It is important to note that when angina is experienced, some people may associate the symptoms with a heart attack. Angina and a heart attack are not the same, however. With angina, pain may also radiate from the chest toward the back, neck, and to the patient’s arm.

  • Heart failure: Heart failure can result from many forms of heart disease, including heart defects, cardiovascular disease, valvular heart disease, heart infections or cardiomyopathy.

  • Aneurysm: Is the enlargement of an artery caused by weakness in the arterial wall.

  • Stroke: A stroke is a very serious condition where the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off.

  • Sudden cardiac arrest: A sudden loss of blood flow resulting from the failure of the heart to pump effectively

  • Peripheral artery disease: Is a condition that has a direct effect on blood vessels and arteries in the patient’s body. Sometimes also referred to as peripheral vascular disease, individuals who develop the condition will experience a reduced blood flow. 

Among these, heart failure seems to be one of the most common problems faced by the general population.

With heart failure, the heart is not able to pump adequate amounts of blood throughout the body. This leads to a deprivation of both nutrients and oxygen.

Treatment Of Heart Disease

There are several potential treatment options for heart disease. A doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications:

  • Nitrates

  • Diuretics

  • Warfarin or other blood thinners

  • Antiarrhythmic drugs

  • (ACE) inhibitors

  • Beta-blockers

  • Calcium channel blockers

Potential therapies include:

  • CPR, in the case of heart attack heart

  • Bypass surgery

  • Stents

  • Pacemaker

  • Defibrillator

  • Heart transplant

  • Enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP)

Prevention: How To Lower The Risk Of Heart Disease

Patients at risk of heart disease should equip themselves with strategies that may help to reduce their likeliness of developing these conditions.

Many strategies can be adopted in order to assist in reducing the risk of heart attacks, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, strokes, hypertension, and many other types of heart diseases.

Understanding the risk factors associated with these diseases is one of the first steps to reducing the risks. If the patient finds that they have an increased risk, then taking the appropriate action will certainly have a positive effect.

Some potential lifestyle changes include:

  • Doing at least 150 minutes a week of exercise

  • Stop smoking

  • Consuming a diet low in processed sugars and increasing the amount of fiber, vegetables, and fruit

  • Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

  • Lowering salt intake

  • Reducing stress

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

For example, a patient who is obese may consider adopting a low-calorie diet and exercise plan to help them lose excess weight.

It is also vital that the patient takes a closer look at their diet. Individuals who have already been diagnosed with cholesterol, for example, might want to take a closer look at how dairy affects their health. With too much dairy, there may be a significant increase in cholesterol, further increasing the risk of heart disease.

Adopting more foods that naturally reduce inflammation is a beneficial, healthy lifestyle change. Several foods have been found to reduce chronic inflammation in the body, which contributes to heart disease.

Another important factor to consider is balancing hormones. For example, men with estrogen dominance may want to learn how to balance their hormones.

A disruption in the endocrine system can be harmful to cardiovascular health and increase the risk of conditions that could contribute to heart disease.

Conclusion

The heart is often considered the most important organ in the body. Heart disease can lead to several adverse effects on the body. In some cases, it may also lead to fatal complications.

Recognizing the symptoms of heart disease early on can ensure a patient is diagnosed before the disease becomes life-threatening. Several treatments have been developed that can assist in the management of these diseases.

Sources

  1. Lakier JB. (1992). Smoking and cardiovascular disease.. American Journal of Medicine. 15 (93), p8-12.
  2. Tavani A, Gallus S, Negri E, et milk, dairy products, and coronary heart disease Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2002;56:471-472.
  3. Stewart J, Manmathan G, Wilkinson P. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: A review of contemporary guidance and literature. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. 2017;6:2048004016687211. Published 2017 Jan 1. doi:10.1177/2048004016687211
  4. https://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/guidelines/Full%20text.pdf
  5. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
  6. https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/release23/en/
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/arrhythmia.html
  8. https://training.seer.cancer.gov/anatomy/cardiovascular/

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