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What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is an umbrella term used to describe a range of diseases that affect the heart. The different types of diseases that fall under the term "heart disease" includes diseases of the blood vessels, heart rhythm irregularities; heart infections; and congenital heart defects. "Heart disease" is in many cases used interchangeably with "cardiovascular disease" which refers to a condition in which narrowed or blocked blood vessels lead to a heart attack and angina.

Heart disease symptoms vary, depending on the type of heart disease that one has

Symptoms of cardiovascular disease

  • Angina
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness and weakness

Symptoms of heart disease caused by heart arrhythmias

  • A fluttering in the chest
  • A fast heartbeat
  • A slow heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness

Symptoms caused by heart defects

  • Cyanosis
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen and areas around the eyes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Built-up fluid in the heart or lungs.

Symptoms caused by cardiomyopathy

  • Breathlessness
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
  • Fatigue and Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeats

Symptoms caused by heart infections

  • Fever
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen
  • Changes in the heart rhythm
  • Dry or persistent cough
  • Skin rashes

Heart disease symptoms caused by valvular heart disease

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart murmur
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Chest pain
The causes of heart disease differ from one type of heart disease to another

Causes of cardiovascular disease

This type of heart disease deals with different types of heart and blood vessel problems. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body but they can become narrow due to build- up of plaques. Sometimes too much pressure in the arteries makes the walls thick and stiff restricting blood flow to the organs and tissues causing a condition called atherosclerosis which is also a common cause of cardiovascular disease.

Causes of heart defects

Heart defects usually develop while a baby is still in the womb. Approximately a month after conception, the heart begins to develop and from this point a heart defects can begin to form. Medical conditions, medications and genes may play a role in causing heart defects. Adults can also develop heart defects because as a person ages the heart's structure can change, causing heart defects.

Causes of heart arrhythmia

An irregular or abnormal heart rhythm causes arrhythmia. Conditions that can lead to arrhythmias include

  • Congenital heart defects
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking and excessive intake of alcohol
  • Stress
  • Valvular heart disease

Causes of cardiomyopathy

A thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle is known as cardiomyopathy but the cause of this condition is unknown. The three types of cardiomyopathy are:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: In this disorder the left ventricle of the heart becomes enlarged or dilated, thus making its pumping ability less forceful, and also the blood doesn't flow easily through the heart.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: It involves abnormal growth or thickening of the heart muscle which makes the muscle to stiffen and the size of the pumping chamber to shrink, interfering with the heart's ability to deliver blood to the body.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy: In this condition the heart muscle becomes stiff and less elastic making it unable to properly expand and fill with blood between heartbeats.

Causes of heart infection

Heart infections, such as endocarditis, pericarditis, and myocarditis, are caused when bacteria, virus, parasites or some chemical, reaches the heart muscle.

Causes of valvular heart disease

The disease of the heart valves restricts the blood from flowing in the right direction. One can be born with valvular disease, or the valves can be damaged by conditions such as rheumatic fever, connective tissue disorders, and certain medications or radiation treatments.

Treatment and drugs: Heart treatments vary according to heart disease

Cardiovascular disease treatments

  • Lifestyle changes: It includes eating a low-fat and low-sodium diet, moderate exercise, quit smoking, and limits the intake of alcohol.
  • Medications: These could include medications such as diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or beta blockers; aspirin therapy; or cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins or fibrates.
  • Medical procedures or surgery: In some cases surgery is done to clear the blockages in the heart and a common procedure is known as coronary angioplasty in which a catheter is placed in an artery in the arm or groin and then threading a small balloon to the blocked artery and inflating it to reopen the artery. A stent is often placed in the artery during angioplasty which helps keep the artery open.

Heart defect treatments:

  • Medications are used to treat mild cases of heart defects.
  • Special procedures using catheters: In this procedure a catheter is inserted into a leg vein and then guided into the heart with the help of X-ray images and once the catheter is positioned at the site of the defect, tiny tools are threaded through the catheter to repair the defect.
  • Open-heart surgery: In some cases open-heart surgery is done to repair the heart defect and this is a major medical procedure which requires a long recovery time.
  • In case of serious heart defect, a heart transplant may be an option.

Heart arrhythmia treatments

  • Medications: Anti-arrhythmic medications are used to reduce episodes of the heart beating rapidly or slow down the heart beat when required.
  • Medical procedures: Two procedures used to treat heart arrhythmias are cardioversion and ablation. An electrical shock is used in cardioversion to reset the heart to its regular rhythm. In ablation, one or more catheters are threaded through the blood vessels into the inner heart where they are positioned on areas causing arrhythmia.
  • Pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs): In some cases a pacemaker or ICD is implanted to regulate the heartbeat. Pacemakers emit electrical impulses which quicken the heartbeat if it becomes too slow, and ICDs correct a rapid or chaotic heartbeat using an electrical impulse.
  • Surgery: For severe heart arrhythmias surgery is be an option.

Cardiomyopathy treatments

  • Medications: Certain medications like ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers can improve heart's pumping ability.
  • Medical devices like pacemakers and implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) are used to improve the heart's pumping ability.
  • Heart transplant: If you have severe cardiomyopathy a heart transplant may be necessary.

Heart infection treatments

  • Antibiotics
  • Medications like Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or beta blockers are used to help normalize the heartbeat.

Valvular heart disease treatments

  • Medications: Vasodilators, statins, diuretics and anticoagulants are medications used to to treat valvular heart disease.
  • Balloon valvuloplasty: In this procedure the doctor threads a small tube through a vein in the leg and up to the heart. An uninflated balloon is placed through the opening of the narrowed pulmonary valve which is then inflated, opening up the narrowed pulmonary valve and increasing the area available for blood flow.
  • Valve repair or replacement: If the valve can't be repaired, it is replaced with a valve that's made of synthetic materials.