Heart disease, in whatever form it manifests, can lead to a heart attack, an angina (chest pain) and heart failure.
While there are treatments, prevention is key. Recognizing and understanding the symptoms and risk factors associated with heart disease will let you get help before the worst happens.
Heart disease includes several conditions that affect the heart. Three of the most common forms of heart disease are:
- Congenital Heart Defects (a problem with the structure of the heart which causes blood flow in the heart to be disrupted)
- Cardiac Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
- Coronary Artery Disease (blood flow to the heart slows down because of a narrowing of the small blood vessels that give blood and oxygen to the heart)
While heart disease comes is considered a form of cardiovascular disease, they're different. Cardiovascular disease covers diseases of the blood vessels throughout the body while heart disease does not.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Symptoms may not be present or obvious for someone with heart disease. Often called the "silent killer", it can develop undetected until a severe event like a heart attack occurs.
Symptoms of a heart attack include pain or discomfort in the chest, neck or jaw. The pain may be accompanied by dizziness. Another form of heart disease, coronary artery disease, can cause angina (chest pain). If left untreated it can lead to heart failure.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
Doctors can detect heart disease in patients using some standard tests.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- an exercise stress test
- a chest x-ray
Those are all noninvasive methods that help diagnosis. If these indicate the possibility of disease, a doctor may turn to more invasive tests.
A doctor may put a long thin tube (a catheter) into a blood vessel in your arm/groin (upper thigh)/neck and thread it to your heart. This is called a Cardiac Catheterization.
Then the doctor will put a dye into the catheter. The dye will flow through your blood and toward your heart. An x-ray will then be taken to see if there is any plaque build up blocking your arteries. This is called a Coronary Angiogram.
Who is at risk of getting heart disease?
One of every four deaths in the United States results from heart disease. That means roughly 600,000 deaths every year.1 While it can strike people of any age or background, certain medical conditions and lifestyle choices can increase risk.
People with diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure are all at greater risk. Other contributors include smoking tobacco, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. Genetic factors may also influence someone's susceptibility. As one ages the risk increase, especially for those with other contributing factors.
How is heart disease treated?
The most important form of treatment involves changing your lifestyle to eliminate risk factors.
Other methods of treatment involve medication. Certain medications help control blood pressure or prevent new blood clots from forming.
Sometimes if the disease is advanced enough, a doctor may recommend the insertion of stents. Stents inserted into the coronary arteries can help keep the vessels open and functioning.
For very advanced cases surgery, such as a coronary bypass, may be necessary. In most cases, patients will need ongoing aftercare to monitor heart function.
How is heart disease prevented?
The best form of treatment is prevention. One should avoid risk factors:
- excessive alcohol consumption
- high sodium diet
A heart-healthy lifestyle includes both proper nutrition and sufficient exercise.
A diet that is very high in calories will lead to obesity and can contribute to heart disease.
Regular exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise like running or walking, strengthens the heart, making the disease less likely. It also improves blood circulation, reduces high blood pressure and helps fight obesity.2
One cannot control genetic factors that contribute to illness. Lifestyle choices, however, have a huge influence on the likelihood of developing this deadly disease.
Citations (view all)
- 1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, "Heart Disease Facts" Accessed January 17, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.
- 2. Ohio State University - Wexner Medical Center, "Preventing Heart Disease" Accessed January 17, 2015. http://wexnermedical.osu.edu/patient-care/healthcare-services/heart-vascular/preventing-heart-disease.