Heart disease is a broad term that includes several more specific heart conditions. Heart disease is the leading killer in the US.
Common heart conditions include:
- Arrhythmias. Irregular, or abnormally fast or slow,
beating of the heart. The heart beat is controlled by electrical
impulses. When the timing or frequency of these electrical impulses are
disrupted, arrhythmias develop. Some arrhythmias are quite serious. An
example is ventricular fibrillation, a severely abnormal heart rhythm
that causes death unless treated right away by providing an electrical
shock to the heart (called defibrillation). Others are less severe but
can develop into more serious conditions over time. A particular
concern is atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is rapid, irregular
beating of the upper chambers of the heart. The chambers can quiver
instead of beating in a regular pattern. Blood is not fully pumped out
of them and may pool and clot.
- Cardiomyopathy. A
weakening of the heart muscle or a change in heart muscle structure. It
often results in inadequate heart pumping or other heart function
abnormalities. These can result from various causes, including prior
heart attacks, viral or bacterial infections, and others.
- Congenital Heart Disease.
Malformations of heart structures, present during pregnancy or at
birth. These may be caused by genetic factors or by adverse exposures
during pregnancy. Examples include holes in the walls that divide the
heart chambers, abnormal heart valves, and others. Congenital heart
defects can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart.
Congenital heart defects are the most common type of major birth defect.
- Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). CHD is the most common type of
heart disease. CHD occurs when the coronary arteries, that supply blood
to the heart muscle, become hardened and narrowed due to the plaque
buildup. The plaque buildup and the narrowing and hardening of the
arteries is called atherosclerosis. Plaques are a mixture of fatty
substances including cholesterol and other lipids. Blood flow and
oxygen supply to the heart can be reduced or even fully blocked with a
growing plaque. Plaques may also rupture and cause blood clots that
block arteries. CHD can lead to a heart attack. Angina, the most common
symptom of CHD can also occur. Angina is chest pain or discomfort that
occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood. Irregular
heart beats, called arrhythmias, can develop.Over time, CHD can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure, a
serious problem where the heart cannot pump blood the way that it
- Heart Attack. A heart attack , also called a myocardial
infarction may occur when blood supply to the heart is severely reduced
or completely blocked. When blood flow is restricted the heart muscle
cells do not receive enough oxygen and begin to die. The more time that
passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage
to the heart. This damage can cause irregular heart rhythms or even
sudden cardiac arrest or stopping of the heart beat. Death can result.
Coronary artery disease is the chief underlying cause of a heart
attack. A less common cause of a heart attack is a severe spasm of a
coronary artery that reduces the blood supply to the heart.
- Heart Failure.
This may also be called congestive heart failure or chronic heart
failure. Heart failure is a condition where the heart cannot pump
enough blood and oxygen to meet the needs of other body organs. Heart
failure does not mean that the heart has stopped, but that it cannot
pump blood the way that it should. Heart failure is a serious
condition. There is no cure for heart failure at this time, except a
heart transplant. Once diagnosed, medicines are needed for the rest of
the person's life.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).
Hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. PAD
is usually the result of atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque and
narrowing of the arteries. Blood flow and oxygen to the muscles in the
arms and legs can be reduced or even fully blocked. Painful leg
muscles, numbness, swelling in the ankles and feet, and weak pulse in
the feet are some of the signs and symptoms of PAD.
- Rheumatic Heart Disease.This
condition is damage to the heart valves and other heart structures due
to inflammation and scarring caused by rheumatic fever, which occurs
from streptococcal infection.Heart disease is an umbrella term for a
number of different diseases affecting the heart.Heart disease is a
number of abnormal conditions affecting the heart and the blood vessels
in the heart.
Recommendations to Prevent Heart Disease
Not all heart conditions are preventable, however certain lifestyle changes may dramatically reduce the risk for heart disease. Tips to reduce heart disease risks include:
- Exercise daily. A
Harvard University study showed that women who walked at a 3-mph or
faster pace at least 3 hours a week reduced their risk of heart disease
by 40%. Another study in men found that those who walked less than 1/4
mile a day had twice the heart disease risk of those who walked at
least 11/2 miles a day.
- Eat whole, natural, and fresh foods. Unprocessed foods help reduce the risk to heart disease.
- Drink a glass of red wine. Resveratrol, a compound present in
grapes and red wine, reduces the number of fat cells and reduces the risk for obesity, and heart disease.
- Consume an aspirin a day. Aspirin helps thin the blood, allowing for better supply to the heart.
- Eat five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables daily and eat more peas, beans, and nuts.
- Eat lean protein such as skinless poultry, fish, and lean cuts of red meat. Cuts of lean protein do not clog arteries leading to several heart conditions.
- Lose weight if you're overweight. Extra weight increases risk for heart disease. Your doctor can advise you about the best ways to lose weight.
trans-fats and limit intake of saturated fats. This means avoiding
fried foods, hard margarine, commercial baked goods, and most packaged
and processed snack foods, high fat dairy and processed meats such as
bacon, sausage, and deli meats.
high glycemic foods. Increased blood sugar levels stimulate the
pancreas to release
insulin. Chronically high
insulin levels are
believed to cause weight gain as well as atherosclerosis of the
- Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
- Control your blood pressure if you have hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can lead to heart disease.
Stress. Chronic stress may raise the level of homocysteine, an amino
acid that may increase the risk of heart disease in men and women. Of
course, you can't totally eliminate stress from your life, but adding exercise and relaxation techniques into your lifr can help cope with those stresses. In addition, you can lower your
homocysteine levels with at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid
daily from your diet or a supplement. Good sources of this B vitamin
include fortified cereals, orange juice, green leafy vegetables, and
intake of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be increased through diet by eating more fish, walnuts, flaxseed
oil, and green leafy vegetables. An example of meeting the recommended
intake of omega-3 fats is to eat 2 salmon portions a week or 1 gram of
omega-3-fatty acid supplement daily.