Heart disease is a catch-all phrase referring to any condition affecting the cardiovascular system. The severity and causes vary and they affect the heart and blood vessels in different ways. The different types are grouped together according to how they affect the structure and function of the heart.
1. Coronary artery (coronary heart disease) and vascular disease
It’s the most common type of heart disease. It develops when the arteries that supply to the heart become clogged with plaque-causing them to narrow and harden. This reduces blood supply to the heart which ends up receiving less oxygen and nutrients. Over time, the heart muscle weakens increasing the risk of heart failure and arrhythmias. The plaque can also rupture from blockages and cause blood flow to stop which can lead to a heart attack.
2. Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias)
A healthy heart beats at a steady, even rhythm of about 60 to 100 times per minute. That’s about 100,000 times a day. An arrhythmia is when the heart has an irregular or abnormal heartbeat that is either too fast or too slow.
3. Structural heart disease
This refers to abnormalities of the heart’s structure including valves, walls, muscles, or blood vessels near the heart. It can be present at birth, in which case it’s referred to as congenital. It can also be acquired through infection, wear and tear or other factors.
4. Heart failure
Heart failure is a condition that develops after the heart becomes damaged or weakened. The heart is still working but not as well as it should be. The two most common causes of heart failure are heart attack and high blood pressure. This can also cause a stroke. Health: Strokes & Signs To Look Out For And What To Do When Somebody Is Having A Stroke
Symptoms of heart disease
- Chest pain aka angina: may radiate or move to the arm, neck, or back
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Fatigue and lightheadedness
- Swelling due to fluid retention (oedema)
Causes and risk factors
Heart disease develops when there is:
- Damage to all or part of the heart
- A problem with the blood vessels leading to and from the heart
- Low supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart
- A problem with the rhythm of the heart
It can be genetic or related to lifestyle factors and medical conditions that increase the risk of occurrence. These include:
Risk factors outside your control
- Sex – women’s risk of heart disease changes over time
- Age- the older you are the higher the risk of heart disease
- Family history of heart disease
- South Asian and African heritage
- Indigenous heritage
- Personal circumstances including – access to healthy food, safe drinking water, health services, and social services
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- History of preeclampsia during pregnancy
- Sleep apnea
- Leaky heart valves
Lifestyle risk factors
- High intake of alcohol
- Obesity and being overweight
- Dietary choices
- Low activity levels
- High stress and anxiety levels
- Recreational drug use
- Birth control or hormone replacement therapy
Poverty and stress have been mentioned by the WHO as two key factors contributing to a global increase in heart disease.
Treatment is dependent on the type of heart disease the person has and usually includes:
The risk of heart disease can be lowered by eating a low-fat, low-sodium diet, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week as well s quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
Where lifestyle changes are not enough, medication can be prescribed to control it. The type of medication will of course be dependent on the type of heart disease.
Medical procedures or surgery
Where medication and lifestyle changes alone are not enough, surgical procedures may be needed depending on the severity of the damage to the heart and other organs.
Please consult a physician if you have any concerns about your heart health. You should get regular checkups so that any issues with your heart can be noticed early.
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