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Heart Disease

By eHealthIQ
Reviewed: April 05, 2013

Overview and Facts

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men and women both worldwide and in the United States. The term heart disease is a broad term that is used to describe conditions that affect the heart’s ability to function properly. These conditions include coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, congenital heart disease and congestive heart failure.

There are many forms of heart disease, and many can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle measures. Heart diseases include:

  • Cardiovascular disease – narrowed or blackened blood vessels that prevent the heart and/or brain from receiving enough blood
  • Heart failure – when the heart does not pump as it should, which causes shortness of breath and swelling
  • Congenital heart disease – a type of defect of the heart and/or blood vessels that occurs before birth
  • Coronary artery disease – hardening or narrowing of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis
  • Pericardial disease – occurs when an infection causes inflammation of the lining around the heart
  • Heart valve disease – occurs when heart valves do not function properly
  • Arryhthmia – irregular or abnormal heartbeat

Heart attack

A heart attack is one of the most common conditions for heart disease and very serious. Also known as myocardial infarction (MI), a heart attack is permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by the death of tissue in the heart, which is caused by lack of oxygen to those cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Many symptoms of heart disease are similar across the different types. Heart disease symptoms vary depending on the type of cardiovascular disease as well as the severity.

  • Heart failure – heart failure symptoms are not necessarily related to how weak or damaged your heart is. Symptoms include:
    • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
    • Shortness of breath that commonly appears during activity or even at rest
    • Dizziness
    • Swelling
    • Fatigue and weakness
    • Cough that produces white mucus
  • Congenital heart disease – this is usually diagnosed at birth, but can be diagnosed later in life, too. Symptoms in infants include:
    • Swelling in legs or areas around the eyes
    • Fast breathing and poor feeding
    • Blue or gray tint to skin (cyanosis)
    • Slow weight gain

Symptoms of congenital heart disease in adults include:

  • Built up fluid in heart/lungs
  • Shortness of breath during activities
  • Inability to exercise
  • Coronary artery disease – hardening or narrowing of the arteries, also known as atherosclerosis
    • Angina – chest pain that entails having a heavy, aching, squeezing pain in the chest
    • Palpitations or irregular, fast heart beats
    • Weakness
    • Sweating
    • Nausea
    • Shortness of breath
  • Pericardial disease
    • Sharp pain in the center of chest that worsens when lying down, coughing or deep breathing
    • Increased heart rate
    • Low-grade fever
  • Heart valve disease
    • Weakness or dizziness
    • Chest discomfort
    • Swollen feet or ankles
    • Difficulty catching breath
    • Heart palpitations
  • Arryhthmia
    • Fluttering in chest
    • Chest discomfort
    • Racing or slow heartbeat
    • Dizziness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fainting or near fainting
  • Heart attack – also known as myocardial infarction (MI), a heart attack is permanent damage to the heart muscle caused by the death of tissue in the heart, which is caused by lack of oxygen to those cells
    • Pain in the chest that feels like squeezing
    • Discomfort in other areas of body such as jaw, back, arms or stomach
    • Shortness of breath
    • Breaking out in cold sweat
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness

Heart attack symptoms in women are like those of men in that the main heart attack symptom is chest pain. But, heart attack symptoms in women are more likely to include nausea, shortness of breath and jaw or back pain.

Causes and Diagnosis

Overall, the most common cause of heart disease is a narrowing of arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. But with the different types of heart disease come different causes.

  • Arryhthmia – causes of arrhythmias are:
    • Diabetes
    • Heart defects from birth
    • Stress
    • Valvular heart disease
    • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease – causes of atherosclerosis are:
    • Being overweight or obese
    • Unhealthy diet
    • Smoking
    • Not exercising
  • Pericardial disease – causes of heart infections such as pericarditis are:
    • Viruses
    • Parasites
    • Bacteria
    • Medications that trigger a reaction
    • Diseases such as lupus and inflammatory diseases
  • Heart valve disease -valvular heart disease can be present at birth or causes by the following:
    • Rheumatic fever
    • Cancer medications or radiation treatments
    • Infections
    • Connective tissue disorders
  • Congenital heart disease – this, along with other heart defects, is a disease that develops in the womb. The heart begins to develop a month after conception, and medications and genetics could play a role in causing the defect.
  • Heart attack – most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks a coronary artery. If this blood flow is blocked, the heart cannot get oxygen and the heart cells fail or die.
  • In atherosclerosis, a heart attack can occur from the buildup of plaque that blocks the coronary arteries. Or, the plaque itself can develop a crack or tear and block platelets stick to these cracks, causing a blood clot.
  • Sometimes, stress can cause a heart attack
  • Other risk factors for a heart attack include age, gender, high cholesterol, kidney disease, family history, diabetes, smoking and a diet with too much fat.

The tests to diagnose heart disease are the same, regardless of the particular heart disease or condition. These tests include:

  • Blood tests – doctors will test for certain substances in your blood, as well as levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and blood cells
  • Echocardiogram – this is an ultrasound of the chest and shows detailed images and function
  • Chest X-ray – this shows a picture of the heart, lung and blood vessels and can reveal an enlarged heart
  • Electrocardiogram – for this test, probes are placed on your chest and they record electrical impulses that make your heart beat
  • Cardiac catheterization – a short tube is inserted into a vein or artery in your leg or arm and can measure pressures in your heart
  • Heart biopsy – a tiny sample of the heart tissue is taken and sent to a lab for testing

Tests and Treatment Options

Overall, heart disease is treated with a combination of medications, lifestyle changes and possibly surgery or other medical procedures. These heart disease treatments can range from low tech to high tech.

  • Arryhthmia treatments include:
    • Medications – anti-arrhythmic medications can slow the heart if an episode of your heart beating rapidly occurs
    • Pacemakers – these emit electrical impulses that can correct a rapid or slow heartbeat
    • Surgery – this is used as a last resort in only severe cases
    • Vagal maneuvers – maneuvers such as coughing, dunking face in ice water and holding your breath may slow a fast heartbeat
    • Medical procedures – cardioversion and cardia ablation are the two most common
  • Coronary artery disease treatments include:
    • Medications that lower blood pressure
    • Lifestyle changes – eating low fat and low sodium diet, getting exercise, not smoking and limiting alcohol intake
  • Pericardial disease treatments include:
    • Antibiotics, if the infection is caused by bacteria
    • Medications that regulate heartbeat
  • Heart valve disease treatments include:
    • Medications that lower cholesterol, reduce water tension and open blood vessels
    • Valve repair – surgery to replace or repair valves is only used in severe cases
    • Balloon valvuloplasty – a procedure in which an uninflated balloon is placed at the narrowed pulmonary valve. A doctor inflates the balloon, thus opening the valve and increasing area for blood flow
  • Congenital heart disease treatments include:
    • Medications that help the heart work better
    • Open heart surgery – used in cases in which the doctor tries to repair the heart defect
    • Catheters – a catheter that is inserted allows a doctor to repair the defect without surgically opening the chest

Helpful Tips and Home Remedies

Heart disease can, for the most part, be prevented with certain lifestyle choices. The following are tips that can help heart disease be prevented:

  • Keep cholesterol in check
  • Control diabetes if you have it
  • Don’t smoke
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Follow a heart healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage stress
  • Control your blood pressure


  • http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/default.htm
  • http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120
  • http://www.medicinenet.com/heart_disease/article.htm
  • http://heartdisease.about.com
  • http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Coronary-heart-disease



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