Heart disease is synonymous with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and encompasses a cluster of diseases as well as related complications of the heart and/or blood vessels. Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide and kills over 600,000 Americans yearly.
A normal functioning heart muscle rhythmically pumps blood via unimpeded blood vessels throughout the body’s circulatory system, supplying oxygen and nutrients to organs and extremities. However, heart disease compromises this crucial process at varying degrees depending on the cause and severity and type of heart disease—which can lead to minor or more serious health complications, even death.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease usually progresses over a substantial length of time, but certain medications, treatment methods (e.g., chemotherapy, radiation), prior illness (e.g., thyroid disease, allergies, invasive bacterial/viral infections) or severe life events (such as extreme emotional distress, strenuous activity, drastic weather exposure, or injury from accidents) can induce its symptoms and complications. Yet most people suffer heart disease as a result of poor behavioral patterns.
The following is a list of common controllable causes of heart disease. One or more of these factors can increase risk of, drastically induce, or heighten the severity of heart disease.
Age, genetics, and gender are uncontrollable causes of heart disease. As you age, your risk for exhibiting heart disease symptoms increases exponentially. Men over 45 are more likely to manifest heart disease than women, while women over 65 years of age are more likely to die from heart disease complications. African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans are at greater risk of developing heart disease than are other ethnic groups.
Experts attribute the increased heart disease risk for these populations to staple diets that are often high in sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, bad cholesterol, and harmful triglycerides that can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—all triggers for heart disease, singly or in tandem. Asian Americans may be predisposed to developing heart disease as a result of b fibrinogen gene G-455A polymorphism.
If you experience any of these typical symptoms of heart disease, seek medical attention:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Extreme tiredness
- Frequent insomnia
- Unusual localized swelling
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chest pains
- Irregular heartbeats (too fast or too slow)
What Is Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure, or heart failure, describes your heart’s inability to pump and deliver requisite amounts of blood efficiently to your body’s tissues. This type of heart disease often starts in the left ventricle (left side of the heart) where the heart pumps out blood, but it can start at the right ventricle (right side), or at both sides of the heart. High blood pressure, valvular heart disease, cardiomyopathy, or coronary artery disease (CAD) are disorders that can diminish the heart muscle’s performance.
If you experience heart failure, your heart fails to function optimally as it loses strength, but it has not completely failed. This process can happen suddenly or gradually. If chronic heart failure is left untreated, vital organ failure or death can occur. Acute heart failure can lead to sudden death.
Heartbeat irregularities (heart arrhythmias), swelling in the lower extremities, persistent cough, and rapid weight gain are some heart failure symptoms. Kidney failure and liver damage can develop over time for heart failure sufferers. Ventricular devices have been used to aid in improving the heart’s efficiency.
What Is Hypertensive Heart Disease?
High blood pressure can cause hypertensive heart diseases, including heart failure, heart muscle stiffness, and coronary heart disease (CAD). The heart’s arteries are mainly affected in cases of hypertensive heart disease. High blood pressure narrows blood vessels, which slows down or stops the flow of blood. When this happens, hypertensive heart disease sufferers are at increased risk of developing blood-flow restricting clots in one or more heart arteries, and a heart attack is highly possible. Heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when blood flow slows down or stops at certain regions of the heart, resulting in heart muscle damage.
Excess weight, lack of regular exercise, cigarette smoking, and a poor diet loaded with bad fats, sodium, and cholesterol contribute to hypertension, or high blood pressure. Maintaining a sensible weight, adhering to an exercise regimen, avoiding trans or saturated fats, and eating more fruits and vegetables are some ways to slow the progression of hypertensive heart disease. Most medications address blood-clotting issues to improve blood flow.
What Is Cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy affects the cardiac muscle. This disease can either cause the heart muscle to enlarge or stiffen, or cause the ventricles to enlarge, stiffen, or weaken.
Signs or symptoms for cardiomyopathy may not be noticeable as it starts to develop. Heart arrhythmias, chest pressure, bloating in the abdomen, and breathlessness are common signs of advanced-stage cardiomyopathy.
Specific causes of cardiomyopathy are not known; however, chronic hypertension, illicit drug use, preexisting illness (e.g., previous heart attack, thyroid disease, infections), or certain vitamin deficiencies (e.g., thiamin) may be important factors.
What Is Inflammatory Heart Disease?
Harmful microbes, fungi, viruses, parasites, pollutants, and other infectious agents can cause inflammatory heart disease. You can contract these agents from the air, water, food, or gaseous pollution. Various parts of the heart inflame in response to these infectious germs or autoimmune disease. Myocarditis affects the middle layer of the heart wall, pericarditis describes inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart, and endocarditis is inflammation of the heart’s valves and inner lining. Long-term use of medications (chiefly antibiotics) are required to control inflammation.
What Is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?
Coronary artery disease (CAD), or ischemic heart disease, restricts the amount of oxygen supplied to the heart, which compromises heart function and can cause heart failure. The heart pumps blood less efficiently, limiting nutrients to vital organs and body tissues. Atherosclerosis, a primary cause of CAD, occurs when plaques and fatty deposits acquired from food build up along arterial walls over time, causing arteries to harden and stiffen. Plaque blockages increase the risk of blood clots and thrombosis, which can lead to ruptures and heart attack. Angina, or chest pains, and heartburn sensations are typical symptoms in CAD cases.
What Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?
Rheumatic heart disease damages heart muscles and valves. As with most types of heart disease, rheumatic heart disease symptoms include chest pain and abnormal swelling.
Rheumatic fever is a known cause of rheumatic heart disease, and it develops from Streptococcus pyogenes, a group A streptococcal bacterial infection. Preventive antibiotic remedies for rheumatic heart disease address preventing rheumatic fever.
Long-term complications of rheumatic heart disease include badly damaged heart valves that must be surgically replaced, heart failure, and endocarditis.
What Is Cerebrovascular Disease?
Atherosclerosis causes arteries to harden from plaque buildup along arterial walls. This condition causes a number of heart-related disorders, including cerebrovascular disease that affects the normal supply of blood to the brain. Over time stiff arteries can rupture, causing cerebral hemorrhaging. Cerebral blood vessel blockage or damage requires immediate medical attention.
Acute headache, paralysis of one side of the body, problems balancing, and confusion are symptoms of severe cerebrovascular disease. Early signs of the illness include slurred speech and unexplained weakness. Stroke, aneurysm, and embolism are other forms of cerebrovascular disease. Brain embolisms are clots that occur in vessels located in other areas of the body, but they break off and travel to the brain inflicting damage on smaller arteries.
What Is Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital heart disease involves a structural defect of the heart that develops in the womb before birth. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects, and they can affect the heart’s walls, valves, or blood vessels. Depending on the severity of the congenital defect, symptoms may or may not appear, and congenital heart disease may not be diagnosed until childhood. Severe defects can hamper or misdirect the flow of blood, causing serious complications, including heart failure.
What Are Cardiac Arrhythmias?
Cardiac arrhythmias describe instances when the heart beats abnormally. The heart may flounder or palpitate for a period of time. In some cases, heart arrhythmias are harmless. But these irregular beats, or wild electrical impulses, can be signs of irregular blood flow and should be taken seriously, especially if they occur frequently. Ventricular fibrillation is signaled by turbulent heartbeats that can cause a severe drop in blood pressure that restricts blood supply to organs. Atrial fibrillation is another type of cardiac arrhythmia.
Aside from heart flutters, a slow heartbeat, or a rapid heartbeat, other signs of cardiac arrhythmias may include sweating, fainting, chest pain, or shortness of breath. High blood pressure, diabetes, stress, damaged heart tissue from a previous heart attack, and caffeine consumption can trigger cardiac arrhythmias. Cardioverter-defibrillators are implants used to treat life-threatening cases.
Heart Disease Treatment
Medical intervention for heart-related illness is necessary in many instances. Surgical procedures, such as angioplasty and stenting, inflate or repair damaged arteries to improve blood circulation. In extreme cases, transplantation is necessary to address severely damaged valves or heart tissue. Such procedures include insertion of synthetic implements, like balloons and heart-assisting devices. Bypass surgery is also an option when arteries are too damaged to repair.
There are a number of pharmaceuticals available that can treat heart disease. Talk with your physician about the best treatment plan for you. An aspirin regimen is usually prescribed to high-risk heart-disease patients to help prevent blood clots. ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers lower blood pressure. Nitrates treat chest pain, and statins help to alleviate high cholesterol.
Most heart disease cases can be prevented by practicing healthier lifestyle choices regularly. To combat the destructive effects of heart disease, most medical professionals promote:
- Regular physical activity to strengthen the heart muscle, combat high blood pressure, and shed excess body weight.
- No illicit drug use or tobacco smoking to significantly reduce heart disease risk.
- Minimal alcohol consumption to steady blood lipid levels that can worsen plaque buildup in arteries.
- Low stress levels and proper rest to help control blood sugar and blood pressure.
- A healthy diet low in low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high in high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (with fruits and vegetables), high in fiber (with whole grains), low in sodium, low in sugar, low in “bad” fats and high in polyunsaturated fats (such as omega-3 fatty acids in walnuts and fatty wild-caught salmon).
- Steady blood glucose levels, especially for diabetics.
- Proper supplementation. Magnesium mineral and thiamine vitamin supplement heart health. Amino acids play a key role in myocardial health beyond their energetic attributes. L-carnitine (from methionine and lysine), taurine (from cysteine or methionine), and CoQ10 (from mevalonate and tyrosine) streamline cardiac metabolic processes and help to optimize heart function.