What is heart disease?
Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include:
- Blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease;
- Heart rhythm problems, called arrhythmias;
- Congenital heart defects.
The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
Why should I be concerned?
Every year, there are approximately 15.7 million deaths by heart disease and heart failure. In Vietnam, those from hypertension’s complications are significantly rising because of the increasing hypertension diagnosis.
Heart disease can occur to anyone in any age, gender, occupation and lifestyle. Moreover, heart disease cannot be cured or reversed. It requires a lifetime of treatment and careful monitoring. When these methods fail, you need to have expensive and complicated surgical procedures to survive.
What are the causes of heart disease?
Coronary heart disease, is the main form of heart disease. Research suggests that coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD), begins with damage to the lining and inner layers of the coronary (heart) arteries. Several factors contribute to this damage. They include:
- Smoking, including secondhand smoke;
- High amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood;
- High blood pressure;
- High amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes;
- Blood vessel inflammation.
Plaque may begin to build up where the arteries are damaged. The buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries may start in childhood.
Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina.
If the plaque ruptures, blood cell fragments called platelets stick to the site of the injury. They may clump together to form blood clots.
Blood clots can further narrow the coronary arteries and worsen angina. If a clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block a coronary artery and cause a heart attack.
Who is at risk of heart disease?
Uncontrollable risk factors for developing heart disease are as following.
- Aging increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle.
- Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. However, women’s risk increases after menopause.
- Family history. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).
Risk factors that you can control include:
- Poor diet;
- High blood pressure;
- High blood cholesterol levels;
- Physical inactivity;
- Poor hygiene.
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Silent coronary heart disease
The signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease may differ between women and men. Some women who have coronary heart disease have no signs or symptoms. This is called silent coronary heart disease.
Silent coronary heart disease may not be diagnosed until a woman has signs and symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, or an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
Other women who have coronary heart disease will have signs and symptoms of the disease.
A common symptom of heart disease is angina. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough oxygen-rich blood.
In men, angina often feels like pressure or squeezing in the chest. This feeling may extend to the arms. Women can also have these angina symptoms. But women also tend to describe a sharp, burning chest pain. Women are more likely to have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back.
In men, angina tends to worsen with physical activity and go away with rest. Women are more likely than men to have angina while they are resting or sleeping.
In women who have coronary microvascular disease, angina often occurs during routine daily activities, such as shopping or cooking, rather than while exercising. Mental stress also is more likely to trigger angina pain in women than in men.
The severity of angina varies. The pain may get worse or occur more often as the buildup of plaque continues to narrow the coronary (heart) arteries.
Signs of heart disease complications
Some types of heart disease will be discovered without an appointment — for example, if a child is born with a serious heart defect, it will be detected soon after birth. In other cases, your heart disease may be diagnosed in an emergency situation, such as a heart attack.
Although you may have no symptoms of heart disease, seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:
- Chest pain;
- Shortness of breath;
When should I seek for medical help?
Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early, so talk to your doctor about your concerns about your heart health. If you are concerned about developing heart disease, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to reduce your heart disease risk. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease.
If you think you may have heart disease, based on new signs or symptoms you are having, make an appointment to see your doctor.
What are the complications may happen?
Complications of heart disease include:
- Heart failure. One of the most common complications of heart disease, heart failure occurs when your heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Heart failure can result from many forms of heart disease, including heart defects, cardiovascular disease, valvular heart disease, heart infections or cardiomyopathy.
- Heart attack. A blood clot blocking the blood flow through a blood vessel that feeds the heart causes a heart attack, possibly damaging or destroying a part of the heart muscle. Atherosclerosis can cause a heart attack.
- Stroke. The risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease also can lead to an ischemic stroke, which happens when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked so that too little blood reaches your brain. A stroke is a medical emergency — brain tissue begins to die within just a few minutes of a stroke.
- Aneurysm. A serious complication that can occur anywhere in your body, an aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery. If an aneurysm bursts, you may face life-threatening internal bleeding.
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD). Atherosclerosis also can lead to peripheral artery disease. When you develop peripheral artery disease, your extremities — usually your legs — don’t receive enough blood flow. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking (claudication).
- Sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness, often caused by an arrhythmia. Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it is fatal, resulting in sudden cardiac death.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will diagnose coronary heart disease based on your medical and family histories, your risk factors, a physical exam, and the results from tests and procedures.
No single test can diagnose coronary heart disease. If your doctor thinks you have coronary heart disease, he or she may recommend one or more of medical tests.
What are other medical tests can help diagnosis?
Besides blood tests and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose heart disease can include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG);
- Holter monitoring;
- Cardiac catheterization;
- Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan;
- Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Treatment and management
What are the treatments for heart disease?
Heart disease treatments vary by condition. For instance, if you have a heart infection, you will likely be given antibiotics. In general, treatment for heart disease usually includes:
- Lifestyle changes. These include eating a low-fat and low-sodium diet, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
- If lifestyle changes alone are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medications to control your heart disease. The type of medication will depend on the type of heart disease.
- Medical procedures or surgery. If medications are not enough, it is possible your doctor will recommend specific procedures or surgery. The type of procedure will depend on the type of heart disease and the extent of the damage to your heart.
How can I manage my heart disease?
Heart disease can be improved – or even prevented – by making certain lifestyle changes. The following changes can help anyone who wants to improve heart health:
- Quit smoking;
- Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes;
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week;
- Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat;
- Maintain a healthy weight;
- Reduce and manage stress;
- Practice good hygiene.
Also, get regular medical checkups. Early detection and treatment can set the stage for a lifetime of better heart health.
You may feel frustrated, upset or overwhelmed upon learning you or your loved one has heart disease. Fortunately, there are ways to help cope with heart disease or improve your condition. These include:
- Support groups. Turning to friends and family for support is essential, but if you need more help, talk to your doctor about joining a support group. You may find that talking about your concerns with others with similar difficulties can help.
- Continued medical checkups. If you have a recurring or chronic heart condition, regularly check in with your doctor to make sure you are properly managing your heart condition.
Heart valves explained. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Heart-Valves-Explained_UCM_305656_Article.jsp.
What is cardiovascular disease? American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp.
What is the heart? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hhw/.
What is Heart Disease? http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/lower-risk/what-is-heart-disease.htm.
Review Date: May 18, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019