What Is Heart Disease? Learn the Symptoms & Treatments
Heart disease is a serious cause of concern for many Americans, but you can take early action to prevent the condition from developing with lifestyle changes and treatment of existing conditions. Read on to find out more about heart disease symptoms, get tips for preventing heart disease, and learn about treatment options that are available to you.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a name given to various types of heart problems, all of which affect the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.
Here are some key terms you need to know to understand heart disease:
- Valves: Parts of the heart that prevent blood from flowing in the wrong direction.
- Arteries: Vessels that carry blood away from the heart.
- Veins: Vessels that carry blood to the heart.
- Cholesterol: A waxy substance that can combine with other elements and stick to the walls of the arteries.
Stages and Types of Heart Disease
The most common form of heart disease is called coronary artery disease. With this condition, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart narrow and become blocked, which can lead to a heart attack.
Other types of heart disease are caused by defects in the structure of the heart, with which you are born. Most of these defects are diagnosed in babies, but some defects don’t become evident until later in childhood or even in adulthood.
Symptoms and Causes
Coronary artery disease has the following symptoms, caused by the narrowing of blood vessels around the heart:
- Chest pain (more common in men)
- Shortness of breath (more common in women)
- Pain or numbness in legs or arms
- Pain in the neck, jaw, back, or upper abdomen
Not everyone gets these symptoms, though. You may not know you have heart disease until you have a heart attack or stroke. That’s why it’s so important to see your doctor for regular checkups.
Prevention and Risks
These factors raise the risk of heart disease:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
By taking action to address these risk factors, you can reduce your chances of developing heart disease. Talk to your doctor about medications or lifestyle changes that can help you lower your blood pressure and cholesterol such as losing weight and quitting smoking.
Diagnosis and Tests
If you are experiencing symptoms of heart disease, see your family physician who can measure your blood pressure and cholesterol, listen to your heart, and refer you to a cardiologist for further investigation.
You are likely to see various medical professionals to help manage your heart disease, from cardiologists to medical imagers, and maybe a heart surgeon at some point.
Your doctor may use some or all of the following tests to diagnose your heart disease:
- Blood test: Measures cholesterol levels in your blood.
- Chest X-ray: Gives doctors an image of your heart.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): Detects irregularities in the heart’s rhythm.
- Echocardiogram: Uses ultrasound to create a detailed picture of the heart’s structure.
- Cardiac catheterization: A tube, inserted into your leg or arm, injects dye into your heart. Doctors can then watch how the dye moves through your heart.
- CT scan: Produces a tridimensional image of the heart.
Treatment, Procedures, and Medication
As well as making lifestyle changes, you may need to take medications to manage your heart disease, which include the following:
- Blood thinners, which reduce the risk of a clot forming in the blood vessels around your heart
- Cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood, preventing further narrowing of the arteries
- Vasodilators relax blood vessels and help them supply blood to the heart
- Beta blockers lower blood pressure and treat abnormal heart rhythm
If drugs can’t control your heart disease, you may need surgery to reopen or bypass blocked sections of blood vessels.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
The key steps you need to take to prevent and manage heart disease include the following:
- Quit smoking
- Control blood pressure
- Reduce cholesterol to a healthy level
Exercising on a regular basis can help you control your blood pressure and cholesterol. However, hard exercise can trigger a heart attack in certain people with heart disease, so be sure to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
If you are overweight, try to bring your weight down until you have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less, which may help to lower your blood pressure and reduce the strain on your heart. Doctors recommend eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to prevent or control heart disease because they can help to lower cholesterol.
In addition to eating your greens, cut down on the amount of saturated fat you eat. A heart-healthy diet includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. You should also aim to limit saturated fats and sugars that you consume.
If you struggle to plan a healthy diet to manage your heart disease, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian who can help you design a diet for your condition.
Heart disease is a severe condition. However, you can reduce your risk of developing the most common form of heart disease by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you already have heart disease, a mixture of lifestyle changes and medications could help keep you safe and healthy. Read more to find out how you can protect yourself and your heart.
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