Heart disease is also known as cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
It is caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. The heart requires a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood through these arteries.
Coronary heart disease develops when they become narrow or are clogged by deposits of fat and cholesterol and cannot supply enough blood to the heart.
If an insufficient amount of oxygenated blood flows to the heart, chest pain, known as angina, may result. If there is a total blockage of an artery, a heart attack results, usually due to formation of a blood clot in a previously narrowed artery.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease is a chronic condition in which the coronary arteries, which carry oxygenated blood to the heart, become blocked due to buildup of cholesterol or fat. It is the most common form of cardiovascular disease. Coronary artery disease develops gradually.
First, fatty plaque caused by cholesterol narrows the arteries. The plaque begins to calcify which causes the arteries to become stiff and hard. This is known as arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. If left untreated, it continues to worsen, eventually leading to a heart attack or cardiac arrest, and very possibly, death.
Many people with coronary artery disease develop angina or have no symptoms at all. Coronary artery disease is the most common cause of death in our society.
Arteriosclerosis can also restrict blood flow to the brain, causing risk of a stroke, and other areas of the body such as the legs.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart is weakened and not able to pump well enough to supply the body with enough oxygen. This results in lung congestion, causing the heart to work harder and worsening the condition. In people diagnosed with heart failure, sudden cardiac death is often the end result.
Arrythmia is a change in the normal rhythm of the heartbeats.
There are two main classifications of arrhythmia. Ventricular arrhythmia occurs in the two lower chambers of the heart called the ventricles. Supraventricular arrhythmia occurs in the heart's two upper chambers.
A very slow heart rate is called bradycardia, meaning the rate is less than 60 beats per minute. Tachycardia is a very fast heart rate, meaning the heart beats faster than 100 beats per minute. The most serious type of arrhythmia is called fibrillation in which heartbeats are uncoordinated.
There are some risk factors that cannot be controlled such as:
- Family history of the disease
- Age: a large percentage who die of this disease are 65 or older.
- Gender: Males are at greater risk.
Risk factors that can be changed or controlled:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Poor diet (high in saturated fats and cholesterol)
- High stress levels
- Chronic depression
Signs and Symptoms
People with coronary artery disease may experience angina, a discomfort caused by inadequate blood flow to the heart. Angina can cause pain in the chest, arms, neck or back.
These symptoms, if they become severe, last more than 10 to 15 minutes and are accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, sweating or fainting, could be signs of a heart attack.
Women are more likely to experience only symptoms of nausea and vomiting instead of the severe pain experienced by men when a heart attack occurs.
Although some factors such as family history of heart disease cannot be avoided, eating a well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol, quitting smoking, maintaining a normal weight, exercise and other factors, can prevent or slow the development of heart disease.
Yearly examinations including blood tests for cholesterol, blood pressure checks, etc., are all important in order to detect heart disease in its early stages when it can still be controlled.