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Heart Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

What is Heart Disease?

Heart Disease (a.k.a Cardiovascular Disease) is a condition that affects the heart muscle and valves. There are many forms of heart disease. Myocardial infarction is the most common type of heart disease. The incidence of heart disease is frequent in highly developed countries like United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Heart Disease

Different types of heart disease include:

1. Congenital Heart Disease:

Congenital heart disease refers to the abnormalities in the heart present since birth. The disorders include:

Septal Defect- This is due to a hole in the heart. The defects include both atrial and ventricular septal defects.

Cyanotic Heart Disease- This is due to a mixture of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood in the body. This mixing of blood leads to less oxygen saturation in the blood and causes bluish discoloration of the skin or cyanosis.

Obstruction Defect- The flow of blood through the chambers of the heart is affected.

2. Coronary Artery Disease:

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. Coronary arteries supply blood along with oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Obstruction of this blood supply due to plaque formation, leads to blockage of coronary arteries and also to the coronary artery disease.

3. Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack):

Partial or complete damage to the heart muscle, due to an obstruction in the coronary arteries, leads to heart attack.

4. Heart Failure:

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart muscle does not pump sufficient blood throughout the body, thus leading to the collapse of vital organs.

5. Arrhythmia:

Arrhythmia refers to an irregular heartbeat. The average resting heartbeat is at the rate of 72 beats per minute. The heartbeat irregularities include-

Tachycardia: The heartbeat is too fast.

Bradycardia: The heartbeat is too slow.

Irregular heart rate is mainly because of improper electrical impulses that coordinate the heartbeat. Sometimes, heartbeat sounds are also abnormal (not normal lub, dub sounds).

6. Pulmonary Stenosis

Obstruction of blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery leads to pulmonary stenosis.

Cardiomyopathy, endocarditis or heart infection and valvular heart diseases are few other types of heart disease.

Causes of Heart Disease:

The causes of heart disease vary from one type to another. The most common cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis that is, narrowing of the coronary arteries due to sudden blood clots or fatty deposition in the arteries (plaque formation).

Abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias can be due to any underlying defects like coronary or valvular heart disease, which leads to the improper signalling of heart’s electrical impulses.

Congenital heart defects occur from the stage of the foetus itself. Any health issues of the mother like gestational hypertension, diabetes or any medications, lead to such congenital disabilities.

Cardiomyopathy includes restriction of flow of blood to the heart due to enlargement of the heart muscle.

Heart infection (endocarditis) is due to an infection of the heart by irritants like a virus or bacterium.

Valvular heart disease can be due to the diseases of the heart valves like rheumatic heart disease.

Symptoms of Heart Disease:

Symptoms of the heart disease vary from one individual to another. It also depends on the age of the patient and other underlying primary diseases. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or heaviness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Radiating pain to the left shoulder or back or jaw
  • Exhaustion on exertion

Heart disease can be identified on the regular screening of the patient, even before the actual occurrence of the disease symptoms.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease:

Risk of heart disease is increased by some modifiable and non-modifiable factors. The list of the factors include:-

  • Age- The process of ageing increases the risk of heart muscle being damaged and weakened.
  • Gender- Males are at higher risk than females. Females with health conditions like diabetes, polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD) and those in post menopause stage are more prone to heart diseases.
  • Family History- People with a family history of heart disease has higher chances of inheritance of the disease.
  • High Blood Pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol- Any of these conditions increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Smoking and Alcohol- Increased or uncontrollable intake of nicotine and other drugs also increase the risk of damage to the blood vessels or plaque formation.
  • Overweight- Obesity and lack of physical activity also affect the heart muscle, as the formation of plaque is easier in such cases.
  • Stress- Continuous mental stress leads to rapid and irregular heart rate.

Complications of Heart Disease:

The heart is the blood pumping organ of the body. Any heart disease will affect both the pulmonary and systemic circulation in the body. The possible complications are:

  • Sudden loss of heart function (cardiac arrest)
  • Heart attack, damage to a part of the heart muscle
  • Brain stroke, damage to the brain supplying arteries
  • Thickening of the artery (an aneurysm) can also lead to internal bleeding
  • Obstruction of blood supply to different parts of the body like hands or legs

Heart disease is to be treated at the earliest, to avoid any further damage to the other parts of the body.

Diagnosis of Heart Disease:

Early diagnosis of heart disease is essential to save the life of a patient.

Diagnosis includes physical examination, blood test, electrogram (ECG), echo test, stress test, holter monitor test and cardiac catheterisation.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)-The electrocardiogram (ECG) findings show the electrical signals of the heart at rest and on activity. Any irregularities in the heart rate can be recorded.
  • Echocardiogram-It is a type of ultrasound to produce the images of the heart. It also helps to check the pattern of blood flow in the heart.
  • Exercise Stress Test-It is a type of stress test to monitor the heart rate, using a treadmill.
  • Holter Monitor Test-If a regular electrocardiogram (ECG) does not give any clear idea about the heart rhythm, holter monitor test is performed. In this test, a sensor is fixed to the patient’s body to monitor the heart rate continuously.
  • Cardiac Catheterisation-It is a procedure in which, a catheter is passed into the artery or vein that enters the heart. The procedure helps to check the function of the heart.

Treatment of Heart Disease:

Treatment of heart disease depends on the stage of diagnosis of the disease. Treatment options include both medications and surgery.

Medical Management:

Many drugs are available to prevent the blood clots and also to avoid further damage to the heart. Medications like aspirin, statin and beta-blockers are used for heart failure and also to control high blood cholesterol or blood pressure.

Surgical Management:

Heart surgery is considered if there is no recovery through medications and if the disease is in the advanced stage.

The common types of surgeries are:-

  • Coronary Angioplasty (percutaneous coronary intervention) – This is a minimally invasive procedure to remove any blocks in the arteries, and also to widen the narrowed arteries. The process is done in two ways, balloon angioplasty and stent placement.
  • In balloon Angioplasty, a catheter and a balloon at its tip are inserted into the narrowed artery and the balloon is then inflated to push any blood clot or plaque, and to widen the arteries.
  • In the stent procedure, a small mesh tube is inserted along with the balloon catheter into the narrowed artery. Once, the balloon is inflated, the artery widens and is held in that position with the placement of a stent. Stents are placed during angioplasty only.
  • Coronary Artery bypass Graft Surgery (CABG)-CABG is open heart surgery and is done to improve the flow of blood to the heart. Coronary artery bypass grafting is performed in patients with severe coronary artery disease in which, all the heart valves are blocked.
  • In this procedure, a heart-lung machine is connected to the patient’s body, which will supply oxygen-rich blood to the whole body. Functioning of the heart is temporarily halted, during the process of surgery. A graft is taken either from an artery or vein of a leg, to use it as a bypass graft. Once the graft is in place, the heart lung machine is disconnected.
  • Pacemaker– This procedure involves, placement of a small device called pacemaker near the collarbone under the guidance of x-ray. The insertion of pacemaker is mainly done to regulate the heartbeat of a patient having an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

Other surgical procedures include heart valve repair or replacement, heart transplantation and repair of an aneurysm.

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Prevention of Heart Disease:

Heart disease is prevalent in almost all the age groups of people. The heart diseases can be prevented by the adapting the following measures:

  • Control of high blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Control of diabetes
  • Control of obesity
  • Control the intake of alcohol and cigarettes
  • Regular exercise and walking
  • Avoid prolonged sitting
  • Control stress on your mind
  • Take a Balanced diet

Heart disease is not fatal, at all the times. Early diagnosis and appropriate management help to reduce the number of deaths due to heart disease. Risk factor identification also plays a very crucial role, in preventing heart diseases.

Related Read: Herbal Remedies to Prevent Heart Diseases

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