What Is Heart Disease?
The term ‘heart disease’ is an umbrella term for several types of heart conditions.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. One in every four deaths is due to heart disease with 610,000 deaths each year in the US alone. Coronary heart disease is the most prevalent type, accounting for 370,000 of these deaths. 735,000 people in the US have a heart attack each year, for many it is not their first time. Heart failure is affecting 6.5 million people in the US. Heart disease is also a major cause of disability.
Coronary Artery Disease
When most people talk about heart disease they usually refer to coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It decreases the blood flow to your heart so your heart cannot receive necessary oxygen and nutrients. CAD can result in a heart attack.
Other Forms of Heart Disease:
- Acute coronary syndrome: a heart attack and unstable angina
- Angina: chest pain that is a symptom of coronary heart disease, there is a stable and unstable form
- Aortic aneurysm and dissection: these affect the aorta
- Arrhythmias: irregular, too fast, or too slow heartbeats
- Atherosclerosis: involves a plaque build up in the arteries
- Atrial fibrillation: a type of arrhythmia with rapid heartbeats
- Cardiomyopathy: involves an enlarged or stiff heart muscle
- Congenital heart defects: heart defects present at birth
- Congestive heart failure: the heart does not pump as well it should
- Peripheral arterial disease: it involves narrowed and stiffened arteries
- Rheumatic heart disease: heart valve damage due to rheumatic fever
Risk Factors of Heart Disease
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Unhealthy diet
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol consumption
- Drug use
- Family health history
- Cancer treatment, including radiation and chemotherapy drugs
Symptoms of Heart Disease
- Chest pain, chest discomfort (angina), chest tightness, chest pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness of dizziness
- Irregular heart beats
- Faster heartbeat
- Pain, numbness, coldness, or weakness in arms or legs
- Pain in neck, throat, jaw, back, or upper abdomen
Complications of Heart Disease
- Heart failure
- Heart attack
- Peripheral artery disease
- Sudden cardiac arrest
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack happens when a part of your heart muscle does not receive enough blood flow to function. Every year 580,000 people get their first heart attack and 210,000 more affect those who have already suffered from a heart attack. The longer it takes to get treatment, the greater damage your heart muscles will suffer. Heart attacks can be silent. Many people do not recognize a heart attack, making it increasingly important to seek help even with the slightest symptoms.
Signs of a Heart Attack
Some heart attacks are sudden, but most start with a mild discomfort more slowly. Call 911 if you feel:
- Chest discomfort, pressure, fullness, pain, or squeezing in your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or keeps coming back
- Discomfort or pain in your other body, including your arms, neck, back, and stomach
- Shortness of breath (this can occur with or without chest pain)
- Cold sweat
- Feeling lightheaded
Men vs Women:
Both men and women tend to experience chest discomfort as their main warning sign, but their symptoms may be different. Women are more likely to experience nausea, vomiting, back pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath than men.
Remember, when it comes to heart attacks, minutes matter. Call 911 to get lifesaving treatment as soon as possible.
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Care for Heart Disease
Your doctor’s visit will likely include:
- Physical examination
- Measuring your blood pressure
- Measuring your cholesterol
- Measuring your blood sugar levels
- Assessing your risk factors, including your weight, eating habits, physical activity levels, and whether or not you smoke tobacco
- Understanding your family history
- Understanding your health history
- Understanding your symptoms and concerns
Diagnostic testing may include:
- ECD or EKG: to measure the activity, regularity, and rate of your heartbeat.
- Echocardiogram: to take a picture of your heart through ultrasound
- Exercise: to measure your heart rate during exercise, usually on a treadmill
- Chest x-ray: to take a picture of your heart, lungs, and organs in your chest area.
- Cardiac catheterization: to check blockages in your arteries through a thin tube
- Coronary angiogram: to check for blockages through an x-ray
Treatment may involve:
- Lifestyle and dietary changes
Heart Disease Prevention
- Visit your doctor to find out about your personal risk factors.
- Quit smoking.
- Exercise at least 20 – 30 minutes a day.
- Eat a whole foods, healthy diet. Avoid processed and fatty foods.
- Lower your stress levels.
- Manage diabetes
- Maintain a healthy cholesterol
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure
- Medication and/or surgery may be required in certain cases
For more specific information on heart disease, see the articles above.