Heart disease affects millions of people around the globe every year and is one of the top causes of death the world over. This guide to understanding heart disease will help you understand valuable information about heart diseases such as the types, symptoms, causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Symptoms of heart disease
You might feel like your heart is beating irregularly when you have heart failure. Other symptoms include palpitations, pain and discomfort in your chest. You might have swelling in your legs and abdomen. Sometimes ankles can swell too. You might experience coughing where white sputum is produced and shortness of breath.
Heart valve disease symptoms
Heart valve disease has symptoms such as feeling weak even during daily normal activities, palpitations, breathing difficulty, feeling of weight in your chest, and changes in heartbeats. Heart valve disease can cause heart failure in which case there are some other symptoms that you need to watch out for. For instance, you might realize you have gained weight pretty quickly. Another symptom is swelling in your feet, abdomen, or ankles. You might experience the feeling of bloating which is a heart failure symptom.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease
We’ve listed the major coronary heart disease symptoms here. The most common symptom of this type of heart disease is chest pain, also called angina. This type of pain can occur in other parts of your body such as your back, your arms, your throat, your shoulders, your jaw or your neck.
In angina, you experience a burning sensation in your chest along with pressure and heaviness. You will feel a lot of discomfort when you have angina. Apart from angina, you can experience your heart beating faster, nausea, palpitations, dizziness, sweating, and breathing difficulty when you have coronary heart disease.
You might feel like you are about to faint. You might experience symptoms related to heart failure. You can feel very tired suddenly without any notable cause and you might even experience swelling. You can have chest palpitations, which is a major symptom of cardiomyopathy. chest pain is another symptom that you can experience especially when you perform any physical activity. You can experience it even when you rest or right after you have your meals.
Symptoms of heart arrhythmias
You might feel pounding in your chest. You might start to feel a little dizzy. You may experience an inexplicable extreme tiredness. You might feel like you are unable to breathe properly due to shortness of breath. Heart arrhythmias symptoms include palpitations where you feel like your heart is not beating regularly. Atrial fibrillation is a type of heart arrhythmia in which you feel like you have no energy, you might feel light-headed, heart palpitations, breathing problems, and discomfort in your chest.
Pericarditis symptoms include you having a low fever. You might experience your heart rate increase even when you are not doing any physical exercise. You might feel a sudden sharp pain in your chest.
You may feel like the pain is slowly moving towards your neck or to other areas of your body, especially your back and your arms. When you try and lie down, the chest pain gets worse and you may experience sharper pain when you swallow, cough, or breathe deeply.
Possible causes and risk factors
Causes of heart disease
Heart disease causes depend on the type of heart disease. Here we’ve covered the risk factors and causes for each by type.
Congenital heart disease:
It is caused by medications, genes, or medical conditions when the baby is in the womb. As the baby’s heart develops, so do the heart defects. Congenital heart disease in adults is caused by a change in your heart’s structure. Heart valve disease is caused by the damage to the heart valves due to various conditions. These include connective tissue disorder, infections, or rheumatic fever. Heart infection is caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Cardiovascular disease can be caused by atherosclerosis which is when your arteries have a buildup of fatty plaques.
It is caused when the heart muscle is enlarged. Depending on the type of cardiomyopathy, the causes are different. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is caused by high blood pressure. Dilated cardiomyopathy’s cause has not been determined yet but it can be due to ischemic heart disease. Restrictive cardiomyopathy does not have a specific cause although it can be caused by cancer treatments and hemochromatosis. Pericarditis can be caused by various problems. These include trauma, radiation, heart attack, infections, cancer, heart surgery, and autoimmune diseases.
It is caused by coronary heart disease, drug abuse, heart valve disease, congenital heart defects, diabetes, alcohol addiction, high blood pressure, smoking, and caffeine addiction. Stress can play a part in causing heart arrhythmias as well and so can some types of medications. Heart failure is caused by hypertension, myocarditis, chronic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, coronary heart disease, congenital heart defects, heart arrhythmias, or faulty heart valves.
Risk factors that lead to heart disease
Some risk factors make you more susceptible to developing heart disease. These risk factors that are beyond your control are as follows.
- You are more likely to get heart disease if someone in your family had it. You may have a higher genetic predisposition to heart disease.
- You are more prone to heart disease as you get older. Women who are 55 years old or more and men who are 45 years old or more are at a higher risk of getting heart disease.
- Heart disease is more prevalent in African Americans and South Asians. East Asians and Hispanic Americans are less likely to have heart disease.
- Gender is a risk factor because men and women experience the risk differently. If a woman has diabetes then it raises her probability of having heart disease compared to if a man has diabetes.
Diagnosis and treatment of heart disease
How to diagnose heart disease
When the doctor is diagnosing heart disease, you will be asked for the symptoms that you experience. Your doctor will check your medical history as well. Next, your doctor will perform a physical exam whereby he will listen to your heart, check your heart rate, and check your blood pressure.
Once he suspects that you might be having heart disease he will perform more tests such as an ECG. This test can help determine any heart muscle abnormalities. Then X-ray,Echocardiography, CT, MRI, or angiography testing is performed to get heart’s images. Stress testing may be performed as well in addition to these tests.
Heart disease treatment
Since there are various heart disease types, the treatment depends on which condition you have. As soon as your heart disease is diagnosed, you must get treated. Heart disease treatment aims to find a cure if possible, ensuring that the condition remains stable, and finding ways to control symptoms. Here are common heart disease types and their treatment options.
- The treatment for congenital heart disease is done with the help of certain medications. The minor problems usually do not need any medications and get treated by themselves. Otherwise, your doctor can recommend catheterization procedure orsurgery. In rare cases, congenital heart disease cannot be treated at all.
- Treatment of heart failure depends on the cause. Usually, you are required to take certain medications so that your symptoms are under control. Your doctor might recommend implanting devices such as defibrillators or pacemakers which are used to improve how your heart functions. A heart transplant may also be recommended for heart failure.
- Heart valve disease can be treated with the help of medications. However, sometimes surgery may be mandatory especially when you have a severe case of heart valve disease. The heart valve surgery is used to replace or repair the valve that is behaving abnormally.
- Coronary artery disease is treated with the help of medications such as beta-blockers, aspirin, and ACE inhibitors. Your doctor might give you treatment to lower high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. You may require surgeries such as open-heart surgery or balloon angioplasty and stenting to treat coronary artery disease.
- Cardiomyopathy treatment depends on the cause. Your doctor might give you medications similar to heart failure. In some patients, a heart transplant may be recommended by your doctor but this depends on the severity of your condition.
- Heart arrhythmias treatment depends on the type of arrhythmias. Generally, your doctor will give you medication so your heart beats at a normal rate. Your doctor might give you medication such as warfarin which helps to prevent blood clots or cardioversion might be recommended. Electrophysiology study and ablation techniques may be needed.
- Pericarditis does not always require a treatment to be done because it gets better by itself. But your doctor can prescribe anti-inflammatory medications. In the case of a chronic problem, fluid drainage can be performed. If your case is severe then your doctor can recommend heart surgery or corticosteroid hormones.
Do you need a heart transplant?
In case no other treatment options are available, a heart transplant is recommended based on your suitability and general health. This is usually recommended only in the case of a high chance of heart failure. If you have defects of the heart since birth, have severe coronary artery disease or if you have dilated cardiomyopathy, then your cardiologist can recommend a heart transplant.
You can be considered as a candidate for a heart transplant when all the other treatment options have been tried and ruled out. Moreover, you will have to be ready to embrace new lifestyle changes, new treatments, and frequent tests to be considered as a candidate.
Understanding the heart transplant procedure
A heart transplant procedure can last anywhere between four hours to 10 hours and is considered a major medical operation. In a heart transplant procedure, the heart from the donor is removed surgically by a surgeon. The heart is then stored in a specific solution and is cooled. The donor heart must be in good condition before the heart transplant procedure begins so the doctor ensures that before beginning the procedure. You are placed in a heart-lung machine at the start of the heart transplant procedure. This is to ensure your body receives the vital nutrients and oxygen from the blood.
Your heart is then removed but surgeons don’t remove atria’s back walls of your heart. Then the surgeon opens the atria’s back of the donor’s heart. The donor’s heart is then sewn in its proper place. The blood vessels are then connected. This enables the flow of blood to start from the lungs and heart. Then the heart begins to warm up and soon it starts to beat. Your heart is checked to ensure that everything is properly connected without any leaks. Once the checking is completed and the heart transplant is complete, you are removed from the heart-lung machine. Once the body accepts the heart then the heart transplant is considered successful.
Finding a donor
Heart donors can be people who are brain dead or who have died very recently. A heart donor is someone who has already permitted in advance to donate their organs. But remember that the donor’s family needs to give their approval at the time of the donor’s death to donate the donor’s organs.
There is a database that is used for locating donor organs. There is a computerized waiting list for that. When a heart becomes available then the best match is found first. This is based on the blood type, how long the patient has been waiting, and body type among others. Race, ethnic background and gender don’t play a role when the heart finds its best match.
Success rates and risks of heart transplants
When you get a heart transplant, you may stand a chance of getting an infection due to the transplant it may even be fatal in case your body rejects the donor heart. While there are drugs that prevent heart rejection, these medications can lead to other risks and problems. These include osteoporosis, lymphoma, high blood pressure, and kidney damage. Nearly half the number of people who get heart transplants are at the risk of developing coronary artery disease. Most of these people don’t even show any symptoms which makes it harder to diagnose the disease.
How to prevent heart disease
You must have wondered whether it is possible to prevent heart disease and if so then how to avoid heart disease to stay healthy always. There is a wide range of steps that you can take for heart disease prevention. We’ve listed a few of them below.
Eating healthy ensures you are at a lower risk of developing heart disease. You should reduce the consumption of salt and sugar. You should eat fish and lean meats as they are healthy for you. One to two servings a week is sufficient to maintain heart health. You should choose low-fat alternatives for dairy products such as milk and cheeses as well. Trans fat and saturated fats are not good for your heart and so you should take measures to reduce their consumption. Trans fats are found in foods such as cookies, bakery products, and packaged snacks. Saturated fats are found in foods like palm oil and red meat.
When you make a diet plan then you should ensure that you don’t cut out all fat altogether for prevention of heart disease. You need certain types of fat in your diet. These include fat from olive oil and nuts. You should eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These help to protect your heart. You can take anywhere between 5 to 10 servings daily. The DASH diet can be used to lower the risk of heart disease. You should limit how much alcohol you drink and you should quit smoking altogether. You should quit having any type of tobacco as well since they increase your chances of heart disease.
You should exercise daily if possible so that you are less prone to heart disease. Exercising consistently helps to improve circulation and it helps to make your heart stronger. It helps you maintain a healthy body weight which helps to lower the chances of high blood pressure and cholesterol. If you are overweight or obese, then exercising can help reduce your weight so you become healthier and so does your heart. You can start with brisk walking for half an hour 5 days a week. If possible, then adding strength training exercises to your exercise regimen is the step in the right direction.
You don’t have to do the half an hour exercise routine together. You can do 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and the other 10 minutes in the evening time. This is beneficial for your health and your heart too. You can choose to exercise by opting for fun activities such as gardening and walking the dog which has numerous benefits. You should get good sleep every night as well. Managing stress is another important prevention technique to avoid the risk of heart disease. You should regularly get diabetes screening, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels checked.
Road to recovery and aftercare
People often have the notion that a person who has undergone a heart transplant cannot lead a normal life. But that is far from the truth. Many precautionary measures need to be taken and kept in mind, many people who have received heart transplants live fulfilling lives.
However, the road to recovery can be a little tough for some people because there are many things to remember. You need to take several medications after the transplant and continue taking them for as long as you live. These medications usually come with their own set of problems because they have side effects such as bone thinning and high blood pressure.
The medications are vital because you don’t want your body to reject the heart transplant. When you experience side effects, you might be prescribed more drugs so you feel relief from the symptoms. You need to remember that you will need to follow a particular diet after your heart transplant procedure is completed. Exercise is another factor that you need to keep in mind after a heart transplant. Exercise is encouraged although precautions must be taken. You will need to speak to your doctor about which exercise program is right for you, the intensity, and the duration of exercise that is permitted in your specific case.
Heart disease FAQs: All your concerns addressed
Q. What is the most common heart disease?
A. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease. Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries are clogged with plaque formation caused due to excessive cholesterol. A heart attack takes place when the plaque within the artery walls ruptures and begins to form a clot within the artery, which leads to a complete blockage. Therefore, the areas of the heart muscle that do not receive enough blood supply begin to die. Some of the common signs of coronary artery disease are:
Sometimes the symptoms may not be as evident as chest pain and breathlessness, it can also manifest as indigestion and intolerance for exertion.
Q. Can heart disease be cured?
A. Although there is no definitive cure to heart diseases, the quality of life can be substantially improved and the symptoms can be managed with suitable treatment plans. Most heart diseases are treatable, and patients can lead a normal life with consistent medication as well as following a healthy lifestyle. There has been some evidence that keeping blood pressure stable and reducing blood cholesterol levels can partially reverse plaque in the coronary arteries; also, doctors can repair or replace diseased valves if needed. The reason there is no set cure for heart diseases like coronary artery disease is that when a heart muscle is damaged, it does not grow back. There is evidence that you can delay or prevent heart attacks by keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol in check. But, if you experience a heart attack or if a heart muscle dies, you won’t be able to regenerate the affected cells.
Q. What foods can lead to heart diseases?
A. In a nutshell, food that is processed and high in fats and sugar can lead to heart diseases. Deep-fried foods like French fries, fried snacks, and fried chicken are known to increase the rate of heart disease. The conventional frying methods tend to increase the risk of heart diseases. Frying tends to create Transfats; this is a type of fat that is known to raise bad cholesterol and reduce the good kind. Another food item that can lead to heart disease is candy. The sugar industry is largely responsible for various heart diseases along with obesity. Experts have said that a diet that includes added sugar can contribute to heart diseases and other issues like obesity, inflammation, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Q. Is oversleeping a sign of heart problems?
A. While lethargy and fatigue are major symptoms of heart disease, especially heart failure, these common and non-specific symptoms can be due to disorders of other significant organs in the body. However, sleep disturbances are quite common if you have some kind of heart disease. Hence it’s always better to check with your GP rather than ignoring symptoms if they cause discomfort.
Q. How long can you live with heart disease?
A. There have been many improvements in treatment of heart diseases, which help improve the lifespan of patients. The life span depends entirely on the stage of heart disease that you are at and how early you seek treatment. Adopting a healthy lifestyle can do wonders for your longevity.
Q. At what age do heart diseases surface?
A. The average age for a first heart attack in men is 65. This is why coronary artery disease is categorized as a disease that affects senior citizens. However, 4% to 10% of heart attacks tend to occur before 45, and most of the patients are men.
Q. What is the best exercise for patients suffering from heart diseases?
A. You need to choose aerobic activities like walking, light jogging, swimming, or biking. Do this three to four times a week. Always stretch before working out, this helps warm your muscles and heart before any exercise.
Q. How do I know when to call the doctor for an emergency if my spouse already has heart disease?
A. When your spouse is experiencing a new type of pain in the chest all of a sudden then you might want to call your doctor. Chest pain can be accompanied by weakness, sweating, and even inability to breathe properly. When your spouse experiences severe headache, heart beating faster than normal, and the inability to move his/her limbs then call a doctor immediately.
Q. Does a person live long after a heart transplant?
A. Yes. The factors that determine how long a person can live after a heart transplant are the state of your overall health, how you respond to the heart transplant, and your age. There is an 80% chance that the person will live for two years after heart transplant surgery. There is a 56% chance that people live for 10 years or longer.
Q. When can I go home after a heart transplant surgery?
A. The answer to this lies in whether your body has accepted or rejected the transplanted heart. Some people can leave within days after heart transplant surgery when there are no signs of organ rejection. Sometimes you might have to stay for up to two weeks or more. This varies from person to person.
Q. Are there any dietary supplements that can be safely taken to prevent heart disease?
A. The research is still going on to determine whether dietary supplements are useful in the prevention or treatment of heart disease. At present, there are no such medications that you can use safely.
Q. How important is reducing stress for heart health?
A. Extremely important. While it is often ignored by most patients, it should not be. You should consult your doctor about relaxation techniques and exercises that you can do to reduce stress. Stress can have a major negative impact on your heart health and your overall body health which is why you should ensure you do something about it.
Q. What are the signs of organ rejection after a heart transplant?
A. You might feel like your blood pressure is increasing. You might experience a sudden fever of more than 38 degree celsius. You might feel like you are becoming out of breath soon even when you are not doing anything and you might feel very tired even when you are just sitting. You may experience symptoms of flu. You might even feel pain in your chest area. When you urinate, your urine may smell foul and you might feel high discomfort during urination
Q. What is Atherosclerosis?
A. The term Atherosclerosis refers to the hardening of the arteries. When the artery gets damaged, fat and plaque may build up in the linings. This stiffens the arteries and leads to narrowing of the blood vessels.
Q. What are the different types of heart disease treatment?
A. The treatment to improve heart health depends on the types of heart disease. Some heart disease may get better with medications while some need surgery for a permanent recovery.
Q. Do women have different heart attack symptoms than men?
A. Yes, women may tend to suffer different symptoms compared to their counterparts. While chest discomfort is a prime sign, women may attribute heart health challenges to shortness of breath, vomiting, abdominal pain, heartburn, weakness, or fatigue.
Q. Can OTC or over the counter alone improve heart disease symptoms?
A. No, there are no benefits of taking OTC painkillers alone. You need specific treatment based on heart disease causes.
Q. Does diabetes affect my heart health?
A. Over time, high blood sugar levels may damage blood vessels that run to your heart. The longer you have diabetes, the chances of developing heart diseases are more. People with diabetes tend to develop heart problem symptoms at a much tender age than people without diabetes.
Q. Is yoga safe for heart patients?
A. Yes, yoga is helpful in improving heart health, and patients may even observe holistic benefits. Some yoga poses are so effective that they may help control blood sugar and cholesterol levels. But do not practice yoga asanas at home without consulting a certified yoga instructor.