Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UnitedStates. There are many different types of heart diseasesome arecongenital (people are born with them), while a majority of heartdiseases develop over the course of time and affect people later inlife.
Heart and blood vessel diseases are often referred to as "silentkillers" because they usually develop over time and can gounnoticed. Many heart problems develop when the arteries, whichsupply the heart with blood, slowly clog with cells, fat, andcholesterola substance known as plaque. This build-up of plaque along the innerwalls of the arteries can cause bloodclots, or thrombi, to form, leading to further narrowing or blockage of the artery. This condition is knownas atherosclerosis , or hardening of the arteries. Lack ofblood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack , while lack ofblood flow to the brain can result in a stroke .
This article provides an overview of the following:
General symptoms of heart disease
Common types of heart disease
Diagnosis of heart disease
Treatment of heart disease
Prevention of heart disease
General Symptoms of Heart Disease
In people with heart disease, physical activity, emotionalstress, and even eating can sometimes bring on symptoms. Blockagesin the arteries of the heart often cause symptoms such as chestpressure, heaviness, tightness, or a squeezing sensation. Sometimesthese sensations are mistaken for gas or indigestion. Symptoms ofthe heart are often experienced as spreading to the neck, the back,the left arm, the throat, ears, jaws, or stomach. Some peopleexperience symptoms in only one area, and not in the chest area atall.
Easy fatigue and breathlessness during activities may also beindicative of heart disease, as can difficulty breathing when lyingflat, swelling of the ankles, and palpitations (strong and fast heart beats) accompanied bydizziness and other symptoms.
Common Types of Heart Diseases and Conditions
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Blockage in the coronary arteries is called coronary arterydiseasea condition in which the heart muscle doesn't get enoughblood and oxygen to meet the demand.
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include:
High blood cholesterol
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Diabetes ( type 1 or type 2 )
Family history of coronary artery disease
Oral contraceptives (in women who smoke)
Drugs such as cocaine
Forms of CAD
Coronary artery disease can take the following forms:
Silent ischemia is a form of CAD in which the blood flow tothe heart muscle is reduced but produces very little pain orsymptoms. Women, older adults, and people with diabetes may be more likely to have less or even no symptoms of heart disease.
Angina refers to pain or pressure in the chest, back, arm,or jawusually associated with exertionwhich indicates that the heart muscle isn't receivingenough oxygen. Angina may be caused by a narrowing of the arteriesor muscle spasms in the coronary arteries. Angina caused by spasms is called variant angina and it may beinduced by cigarette smoke, cold temperatures, strong emotions, andother sources.
It is important to note that anginawhich consists of brief symptoms that resolve in a few minutesis not a heartattack. However, new angina or a worsening pattern of angina puts someone at increased risk of having a heart attack or cardiac arrest . The pain of angina can be relieved either byincreasing the oxygen supply to the heart or by decreasing theheart's demand for oxygen. Thus, taking a rest from exertion or taking medication that dilates the arteries may relieve an episode of angina.
Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)
A heart attack occurs when blood flow topart of the heart is blocked and part of the heart muscle isdamaged and dies as a result. There are now treatments that, if given in the first hours of a heart attack, can open up blocked arteries and limit the damage done to the heart muscle. In addition, during a heart attack, a person is at high risk of an arrhythmia or sudden death. For these reasons, it is especially importantfor the heart attack victim to get medical help fast.
Some people may have few or no symptoms, but in general, the more warning signsand symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you are having a heart attack. Signs and symptoms include:
Heavy feeling, pressure, or intense pain or squeezing in thechest that lasts for more than a few minutes
Pain that radiates to the shoulders, neck, or arms
Lightheadedness or fainting
Shortness of breath
Nausea or vomiting
Heart failure occurs when the heart isn't pumping as well as itshould. As a result, the body doesn't get all the blood and oxygenit needs. Heart failure can be caused by coronary artery disease,heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, diseases of the heartvalves, cardiomyopathies (diseases that damage the heart muscles), alcohol abuse , severe emphysema , and other causes.
If you have thefollowing symptoms of heart failure, see your doctor:
Swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs, known as edema
Shortness of breath on exertion, caused by fluid that builds up in the lungs, known as pulmonarycongestion
Other symptoms of heart failure may include wheezing, shortness of breath when sleeping flat, cough, and fatigue.
The diagnosis of heart disease is often complicated. Thefollowing tests are often used to help make a diagnosis:
Treatment of heart disease depends on the type of disease aswell as many additional factors. Coronary artery disease is treatedwith:
Medications These may include: aspirin; beta-blockers;nitroglycerin tablets, spray, and patches; ACE inhibitors; calcium channelblockers; and thrombolytic therapy
Surgery These may include: coronary angioplasty , stents, and coronary bypassoperation
Research has identified certain risk factors that make peoplemore prone to heart disease.While some risk factors can't becontrolled, such as being male or having a family history of heartdisease, those related to lifestyle can be controlled and mayprovide significant long-term benefits. Further, risk factors oftenoverlap. By making changes in one area of your life, such asbecoming more physically active, you may decrease your cholesterollevels and blood pressure.
The following steps can help reduce therisk of certain heart diseases:
Lowering the cholesterol level in your blood through dietary changes and medication
Engaging in regular physical activity (preferably aerobicactivity, a minimum of 30 minutes per session, at least four timesper week)
Keeping weight or body fat in a healthy range
Keeping blood pressure in a healthy range
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Last reviewed February 2007 by Janet H. Greenhut, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.