What is Heart Disease?
The terms ‘heart disease’ and ‘cardiovascular disease’ are interchangeable, and refers to several different diseases or conditions.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Many risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing heart disease.
Fortunately, many of these risk factors are controllable. By minimizing risk factors and practicing a healthy lifestyle, your heart will stay strong and healthy for years to come.
Most Common Types of Heart Disease
- Coronary Artery Disease: Also known as coronary heart disease, this condition occurs when a waxy substance called plaque builds up on the walls of coronary arteries, reducing the amount of blood which can flow to the heart. If the blood vessel becomes blocked with plaque, it may rupture and cause a blood clot which may lead to angina or heart attack.
- Coronary Microvascular Disease: Also called small vessel disease or small artery disease, this type affects the small arteries which branch off from the main coronary arteries in the heart. Unlike with coronary artery disease, plaque does not build up in these small arteries; they are either damaged or diseased, and can lead to spasms or reduced blood flow.
- Congenital Heart Defects: Sometimes called ‘congenital heart disease’, this condition includes problems with the heart’s structure at birth. Normal blood flow through the heart is usually affected. The types and severity of congenital heart defects vary from person to person.
- Cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. The heart muscle becomes thick, enlarged, or rigid, and becomes weaker over time. As a result, it is less able to maintain a normal rhythm or pump blood efficiently, and can result in heart failure or arrythmias.
- Arrythmia: Arrythmias can either develop as a condition on their own, or result from another condition. In both cases, they are abnormal heart rhythms – whether too fast, too slow, or irregular.
- Heart Failure: Although the name suggests otherwise, heart failure doesn’t mean that the heart has stopped. Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood through the body at an efficient rate, and nutrients and oxygen do not meet the body’s needs as a result.
- Heart Attack: Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is severely impaired or cut off altogether. They commonly affect people with coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis. The heart muscle begins to die if normal blood flow isn’t restored quickly.
- Heart Valve Disease: The heart has four valves, each of which works normally in a healthy heart. Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of these valves does not function properly. The valves either let blood leak into the heart chambers or do not open fully. The heart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are many risk factors for developing heart disease. These can be broadly grouped into two categories: changeable and non-changeable.
Controllable risk factors are those which can be reduced or eliminated. Uncontrollable risk factors are natural traits which people are born with, and cannot be changed.
Controllable risk factors include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Uncontrollable risk factors include:
- Family history
Men are more likely to develop heart disease. The risk for women increases after menopause.
One in three Americans has one of the major risk factors for heart disease: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or smoking.
Any one factor can increase the risk of developing heart disease, even if you don’t have other risk factors. If you have inherent risk factors, then keeping an eye on your cholesterol and blood pressure, and practicing good exercise and eating habits will reduce the risk factors you can control.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
There are many possible symptoms of heart disease. Some people may experience severe symptoms, while others may not immediately notice their symptoms.
- Many types of heart disease share similar symptoms. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain and/or discomfort
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Pain in the back, neck, or jaw
- Heart palpitations or pounding in the chest
- Discomfort, pressure, or squeezing sensation in the chest
- Feeling of choking similar to heartburn
It can be easy to mistake heartburn for heart problem warning signs. If there is any doubt at all in your mind about the cause of your symptoms, it’s best to contact a medical professional.
Heart Disease Experts at Florida Medical Clinic
The heart is essential to living a healthy, normal life. The Vascular Lab at Florida Medical Clinic specializes in detecting the early signs of heart disease. Our Cardiology Department provides a wide range of outpatient services for treating heart disease. We are dedicated to keeping your heart strong and healthy for years to come.