What comes to mind when you hear the phrase heart disease? It sounds like a rather vague, but definitely bad condition. The reality is, heart disease is an umbrella category that spans several other conditions. We all know that the role of the heart is to circulate oxygenated blood through your body enabling other organs and tissues to function. You can think of your body as a vehicle where each of our organs relies upon the others doing their jobs in order for us to survive. Your heart is the engine of that vehicle and without it, you’re stranded. So what does it mean for this critical organ, the engine of your body, to be diseased?
There are a few primary conditions that fall under the umbrella of heart disease, some are preventable others are genetic and all can be treated with some degree of medical intervention.
The following four conditions are those most commonly associated with the heart disease moniker.
1. Coronary Artery Disease
The condition you most likely think of when you hear about heart disease is actually Coronary Artery Disease. This condition occurs when blood flow to and from the heart is restricted due to a buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. Plaque build-up occurs due to elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood. Think for a second about what happens when you put leftovers from a rich dinner in the refrigerator, then the next day when you go to retrieve it for lunch the fat has hardened into a shell that can be peeled off. That fatty, waxy substance isn’t unlike the plaque that collects inside your arteries.
It would be short-sighted to suggest that your arterial plaque is simply a result of the cheeseburger you ate last night. While diet is a central figure in the accumulation of plaque, it is not alone. Other factors include but are not limited to genetics, lack of exercise, smoking, stress, and high blood pressure. Treatments for patients diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease range depending upon the severity of the disease. Cases caught early can be addressed with a change in diet and lifestyle while others may require a daily dose of aspirin or an angioplasty.
Another type of heart disease is known commonly as Arrhythmia. The word arrhythmia can be broken down to mean without rhythm, referring to any condition where the heart either beats too fast, too slow or inconsistently. Arrhythmias can be, but are not exclusively, hereditary. The two most common types of this kind of heart disease are Tachycardia and Bradycardia. Tachycardia refers to a heart rate that is faster than normal, or greater than 100 beats per minute. Imagine your heart pumping regularly the way that it does when you’re on a brisk walk. Such sustained pressures on the heart muscle are ultimately dangerous. Bradycardia, on the other hand, occurs when the heart rate is lower than 60 beats per minute. Such a slow heart rate makes it difficult for the body to receive the amount of oxygenated blood it needs to survive.
The list of different types of Arrhythmias goes on and on, but they are all failures in the electrical system that keeps your heart pumping properly. Treatments for arrhythmia vary, but the most common range from medication to the implantation of a pacemaker to help regulate your heart rate. If you have a history of irregular heart rate or a family history of arrhythmia it is worth seeing a cardiologist regularly to monitor your heart health.
3. Heart Valve Disease
The human heart has four valves that help pump by ensuring that blood only flows in one direction. In most patients with Heart Valve Disease, the valves don’t shut properly allowing blood to flow backward and pool in the heart. These people generally have stenosis or regurgitation issues occurring with their heart valves. Others suffer from a problem called Atresia which occurs when a heart valve doesn’t have a hole for blood to pass through at all.
Many people live with heart valve disease for their whole lives and never realize it. For some people, the effects of this condition creep up over time and with age. There are no cures for this form of heart disease, but there are lifestyle adjustments and medications that can help minimize symptoms. As with any patient with a form of heart disease, it’s important that patients with heart valve disease maintain a relationship with their cardiologist so they can monitor the progression of your condition.
4. Heart Failure
Heart failure is a condition wherein the heart muscle fails to work as it should. There are two primary types of heart failure known as Diastolic and Systolic. Diastolic heart failure occurs when the heart muscle becomes thicker than normal making it difficult to fill with blood and therefore unable to pump blood to the rest of the body. Systolic heart failure occurs when the heart becomes weak and unable to pump. Systolic heart failure occurs most often in men, while diastolic heart failure occurs more often in women. Both conditions can happen on either the right or left side of the heart.
While anyone can have heart failure, it’s most likely to occur in people who maintain unhealthy lifestyles including smoking, eating a high cholesterol diet, and not getting enough exercise. The treatments for this type of heart disease range depending upon the severity of your condition. Many patients do well on medication for their heart failure, while some need surgical intervention or even the implantation of a pacemaker.
Heart disease is a broad category of conditions and research shows that nearly 50% of Americans are suffering from it to some degree. That’s a scary figure and one that should make us all think seriously about the diet and lifestyle changes we can make to protect against heart disease. For more information about your risk of heart disease, contact us today.