Chronic Diseases

What is Heart Disease?

Different diseases affect the heart. Learn about some of them, their symptoms, and how to prevent them.

The term “heart disease” refers to several types of conditions that affect your heart. Some Diseases that fall under the heart disease label include, among many others:

  • Coronary artery disease: the coronary arteries supply the heart muscle with nutrients and oxygen by circulating blood. These arteries can become diseased or damaged (usually has to do with cholesterol), causing the heart to receive less oxygen and nutrients.
  • Arrhythmias: occurs when the impulses in the heart that coordinate the heartbeat do not work correctly. These make the heartbeat in a way it shouldn’t (too fast, slow, or erratically). Irregular heartbeats are common, and all people experience them. However, when they change too much or occur because of a damaged or weak heart, they need to be taken more seriously and treated as Arrhythmias can become fatal.
  • Congenital heart defects: this is a general term for some deformities of the heart that have been present since birth, such as cyanotic heart diseases, septal defects, or obstruction defects.
  • Heart Failure: sometimes called congestive heart failure, it means the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. Heart failure does not mean that the heart stops beating —  a common misperception. Instead, the heart keeps working, but the body’s need for blood and oxygen isn’t being met.
  • Pulmonary Stenosis: it involves the pulmonary valve, which separates one of the chambers in the heart and the pulmonary artery. The pulmonary artery carries oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. Stenosis occurs when the valve cannot open wide enough, resulting in less blood flowing to the lungs. This disease is most often present at birth and occurs as the baby develops in the womb before birth. The cause is unknown, but genes may play a role.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, causing about 1 every 4 deaths. The most common type of heart disease in the US is coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to a heart attack.

What are common symptoms of Heart Disease, and how do I get tested?
Symptoms of Heart Disease can change a lot depending on the specific condition, but some common symptoms shared among most diseases are:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating for no reason
  • Irregular or faster heartbeats
  • Fainting
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Swelling of the legs, abdomen, around the eyes, ankles, or feet
  • Heartburn

Having your blood pressure measurement is one of the easiest ways to indicate if you have a heart problem. You can have your blood pressure measured at your primary care office, CVS, Walgreens, or you can even buy your own blood pressure cuff. 

If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, and fainting, you should seek emergency medical care.

Common causes or risk factors:
Causes of Heart Disease can change from one specific disease to another, but some common causes and risk factors for developing Heart Disease include:

  • Age (the older you are, the higher the chances)
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Family History
  • Constant Stress
  • Sex (men are mostly at greater risk but women’s risk increase after menopause)
  • Poor Hygiene
  • Poor Diet (one high in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol)
  • Physical Inability (lack of exercise) 
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer

How can I prevent or improve my condition?
Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can’t be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease, such as:

  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce and manage stress
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Control other health conditions (high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes)
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, on most days of the week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  •  Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat
  • Reduce alcohol intake

If you’re concerned about developing heart disease, make an appointment to see your doctor and talk about steps to reduce your heart disease risk. There are two main lines of treatment for heart disease. Initially, a person can attempt to treat the heart condition using medications. Your doctor will help you find a medication that is safe and effective. If these do not have the desired effect, surgical options are available to help correct the issue.


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