Heart Disease

By:    Published: December 14, 2012

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Heart disease is a term that is used to cover a variety of heart conditions. There are numerous diseases and conditions that can be considered a part of heart disease. The term, “cardiovascular disease,” is often used interchangeably with “heart disease.”

How The Heart Works

The heart is a muscular organ that works to pump blood. It is located just to the left side of the chest and is divided into two sections, the right side and the left side. The right side of the heart is where the right atrium and ventricle can be found. These components are responsible for collecting blood and pumping it into the lings via the pulmonary arteries.

The oxygen-rich blood that comes out of the lungs flows back into the heart on the left side and is then pumped through the aorta. When the heart beats, it contracts and relaxes and relies on electrical impulses to keep it beating. The heart is a complex organ that requires all components to be functioning properly

What Is Considered Heart Disease?

Heart disease refers to conditions and diseases that affect the heart, including:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems)
  • Infections of the heart
  • Heart defects
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Stroke
  • Conditions that affect heart muscles

Although there are many forms of heart disease, many of them can be successfully treated or even prevented by simply making healthy lifestyle choices.

Types Of Heart Disease

When there is a problem within any of the structures of the heart, it can result in the development of heart disease. Common forms of heart disease include:

  • Coronary artery disease is a common form of heart disease in which the blood vessels are narrowed or blocked, which interferes with normal blood flow and blocks the heart, brain and other areas of the body from receiving adequate amounts of blood.
  • Heart arrhythmias are abnormal heartbeat rhythms that occur if the heart beats too quickly, too slowly or in an irregular pattern.
  • Congenital heart defects are defects of the heart that occur in utero. Major heart defects are often diagnosed shortly after birth. Minor heart defects may not be diagnosed until later in childhood or even in adulthood.
  • Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes thick or stiff. Symptoms may not develop until the condition progresses to an advanced stage.
  • Heart infections that affect the tissues around the heart, the muscles in the middle layer of the heart of the inner membrane of the heart can develop at any time.

Symptoms

Symptoms of heart disease can vary depending on the specific type of heart disease that is present. General symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the arms or legs
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Cold sensation in the extremities
  • Fluttering sensation in the chest
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Tiring easily during exercise or activity
  • Becoming short of breath during exercise or activity
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles or feet
  • Bloated stomach
  • Fatigue

Causes

There are a variety of causes for heart disease. The underlying cause may depend on the specific type of heart disease. Oftentimes there may be more than one cause for heart disease. Common causes for heart disease include:

  • Fatty plaque build-up in the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Excessive pressure in the arties, causing thickening and stiffening of the arteries
  • Restricted blood flow to organs and tissues
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Heart defects
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Drug abuse
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Stress
  • Certain medications or herbal remedies
  • Certain dietary supplements
  • Electrical shock

Heart defects can develop while in utero. The heart starts to form roughly one month after conception. During this time, heart defects can occur. Some heart defects are genetic while others can be the result of certain medical conditions or taking certain medications.

Heart infections can be caused by an irritant that enters the heart muscle. Common irritants are bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemicals. When bacteria enter into the bloodstream, they can travel to the heart and cause infection. Regular everyday activities can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream, such as eating or brushing your teeth.

Risk Factors

There are specific risk factors that increase the chances of developing heart disease. Common risk factors include:

  • Advancing age
  • Being a male
  • Having a family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Eating a poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Having high cholesterol levels
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High levels of stress
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor dental health

Related: The Link Between Gum Disease And Heart Problems

Diagnostic Tests

There are several diagnostic tests available for detecting heart disease. The type of test that is required will depend on the type of heart disease your doctor is checking for. A thorough physical examination will be performed regardless of the type of heart disease that is suspected. Additional tests that may be ordered include:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • ECG (electrocardiogram)
  • Holter monitoring
  • Echocardiogram
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Heart biopsy
  • CT scan
  • MRI

Treatment Options

The treatment for heart disease will depend on the specific type of heart disease that is present. In addition to any specific treatments that are available for certain types of heart disease, there are some common treatment options that can be used to improve almost all types of heart disease. These treatments include:

  • Healthy lifestyle changes
  • Medications
  • Medical or surgical procedures
  • The use of medical devices

Alternative Medicine

There are a variety of alternative medicines that have been shown to be quite effective in treating certain types of heart disease, including:

  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Flaxseed
  • Oats
  • Oat bran
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Plant stanols and sterols
  • Blond psyllium

Because even natural treatments can be contraindicated in some individuals, it is important to speak with your doctor or health care provider prior to starting treatment with any alternative medicine remedies.

Home Remedies

Heart disease can be greatly improved with some simple lifestyle changes. By stopping smoking, exercising more and eating a healthy diet, you can take steps to reverse damage caused by heart disease and prevent your condition from worsening over time. It is important to keep blood pressure and cholesterol at healthy levels and have them checked regularly. By maintaining a healthy weight and managing stress, you can improve your heart health.

Considerations

If you or a loved one suffers from heart disease, it is important to understand that there are support groups available to help you cope with the condition. In addition to your friends and family, it may be helpful to be surrounded by other people who are also suffering from heart disease, as they have first-hand experience and can offer additional support.

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