Heart disease is the primary cause of death across the world, claiming approximately 17.9 million lives every year.
In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about heart disease – including its different types, causes and risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is any condition that affects the function or structure of the heart. Many people think that heart disease only refers to one condition. Fact is, heart disease refers to a range of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as arrhythmias, heart defects, coronary artery disease (CAD), congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, and other conditions.
Types of Heart Disease
There are several types of heart disease. However, certain types can be grouped together based on how they affect the function or structure of the heart.
- Heart Rhythm Disorders (Arrhythmias). Heart rhythm disorders cause the heart to beat irregularly, too slowly, or too quickly. There are many types of arrhythmias, including premature atrial contractions, atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia (V-tach), bradyarrhythmias, long QT syndrome, and paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT) – just to name a few.
- Coronary Artery and Vascular Disease. Coronary artery and vascular diseases are caused by the hardening of the arteries. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries in the heart are blocked or narrowed. It is the most common type of heart disease and is the reason behind most angina (chest pain) and heart attacks. Vascular disease is any abnormal condition of the blood vessels (veins and arteries) that reduce blood flow and affect the function of the heart.
- Structural Heart Disease. Structural heart diseases refer to the abnormalities of the heart’s structure – including its muscles, walls, valves, or the blood vessels near the heart. It can be congenital (present at birth) or developed after birth due to wear and tear, infection, or other factors. People with heart defects typically require support throughout their lifetime, often requiring surgical procedures and ongoing medical care.
- Heart Failure. Heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart becomes weakened or damaged, and can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Some of the most common causes of heart failure include high blood pressure, past heart attacks, congenital heart defects, and drug/alcohol abuse. For some people, heart failure is a life-long condition that cannot be cured. But early diagnosis, medications, and lifestyle changes can help keep symptoms under control, which allows people to live longer and lead active lives.
Causes and Risk Factors
Heart disease can be caused by several factors, including:
- Medical Conditions
Some medical conditions that can cause heart disease include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and high blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Lifestyle Risk Factors
Certain unhealthy lifestyle habits can cause heart disease. This includes physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption, chronic stress, smoking, and drug use.
- Risk Factors You Can’t Control
While medical conditions and lifestyle risk factors can be controlled to an extent, there are certain risk factors that are just out of your control – this includes risk factors such as age, a family history of heart disease, and ethnicity.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of heart disease depends on what type of disease you have. Here are some signs and symptoms of heart disease:
- Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease
Symptoms for cardiovascular disease may vary for men and women. For example, men are more likely to experience chest pain; on the other hand, women are more likely to have other symptoms, along with chest discomfort, such as nausea, and shortness of breath. Other cardiovascular disease symptoms can include pain in the jaw, neck, throat, back, or upper abdomen; chest discomfort, chest tightness, and chest pain; weakness, tingling, numbness, or pain in your arms or legs; and shortness of breath.
- Symptoms of Heart Rhythm Disorders
Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) cause the heart to beat irregularly, too slowly, or too quickly. Symptoms can include chest discomfort or pain, slow heartbeat (bradycardia), racing heartbeat (tachycardia), shortness of breath, lightheadedness, dizziness, and a fluttering sensation in the chest.
- Symptoms of Structural Heart Disease (Heart Defects)
Serious congenital heart defects (defects that you are born with) usually become apparent after birth. Heart defect symptoms in children include blue or pale gray skin color; swelling in the areas around the eyes, abdomen, or legs; and shortness of breath during feedings. On the other hand, some less serious congenital heart defects are not diagnosed until later in childhood or adulthood. Some of its symptoms include swelling in the hands, ankles, or feet; shortness of breath during activity or exercise; and easily getting exhausted during activity or exercise.
When to See a Doctor
Proceed to your local emergency department or contact emergency services if you have:
- Chest discomfort or pain that is unexpected, severe, and comes with sweating, weakness, nausea, and shortness of breath
- Sudden weakness in your arms or legs
- Shortness of breath that is not relieved by rest
- A fast heart rate that exceeds 120-150 beats per minute, particularly if you are also experiencing shortness of breath
Early detection is crucial to the treatment of heart disease. So, make sure to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your heart health. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with heart disease, make sure to talk to your doctor about what steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk. This is particularly important if you have a family history of heart disease
Treatment and Prevention
Unfortunately, certain types of heart disease (i.e. heart defects) cannot be prevented. However, there are several things that you can do to reduce your risk of developing other types of heart disease. You can reduce your risk by:
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing stress
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Controlling other health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure
Treatment for heart disease may also involve medications, surgery, or other procedures. Furthermore, treatment can vary depending on the type and severity of your heart disease. You can discuss your treatment options with your doctor – they can help you decide which treatment method is best for you and your circumstances.
While certain factors can increase the risk of developing heart disease, it can affect anyone at any age. But by making healthy lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
On the other hand, if you have been diagnosed with heart disease, it is highly important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Make sure to follow your medication schedule, diet restrictions, exercise recommendations, as well as any other instructions set by your doctor.
You should also see your doctor for regular checkups and if you notice any changes in your condition.