Heart disease is not a single disorder or condition. It refers to a group of diseases or problems in which the heart or the vessels supplying blood to the heart are damaged and are not able to function in a normal way. For several years, it was believed that heart diseases occur in older people. But now-a-days, heart diseases are quite common in young adults, mainly because of sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. Heart diseases take years to progress and may begin to develop at a very young age. However, most people do not show any symptoms of heart diseases before they reach their 50s or 60s. Read about heart disease in India — 6 shocking facts you should know.
Some types of heart defects are present at birth. These are called congenital heart diseases. Other more common heart diseases include coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke and peripheral arterial disease. The most common cause of heart diseases is atherosclerosis and hypertension/high blood pressure. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which there is deposition of cholesterol and fatty substances on the walls of arteries, while hypertension is the elevation of blood pressure in the arteries due various reasons.
There are several factors that increase the risk of heart diseases and associated conditions. These include age, gender, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and stress. Factors like weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels can be controlled by making dietary and lifestyle changes to significantly improve cardiovascular health. Few changes include eating a low fat, high fibre diet with fruits and veggies, quitting smoking, giving up alcohol, increasing physical activity and reducing stress.
There are more than 60 different forms of heart disease. Here are the most common ones found among people all over the world.
1. Coronary heart disease: Coronary heart disease is also called coronary artery disease. It affects or damages coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart.
2. Angina pectoris: Angina or angina pectoris is a condition or rather a symptom of coronary heart disease. It is a feeling of nagging pain, tightness and discomfort in the chest region when the heart does not receive enough blood.
3. Cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscle that helps to pump blood throughout the body becomes weak.
4. Congenital heart disease: It is a defect (structural of functional) found in the hearts of individuals, right at the time of birth.
5. Arrhythmia: It a condition causing irregular heartbeat due to improper electric impulses received by the heart. It can either cause the heart to beat very fast (tachycardia) or very slow (bradychardia). Here are 5 causes of tachycardia or increased heart rate you should know.
6. Congestive heart failure: Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood throughout the body effectively. Congestive heart failure occurs when excess fluid builds up in the body because of heart failure, affecting the filtration function of the kidneys and causing congestion.
7. Atrial fibrillation: It occurs due to arrhythmia, when rapid electrical impulse causes the heart to fibrillate, contract very fast and irregularly.
8. Heart inflammation (myocarditis and pericarditits): The heart tissue can get inflamed due to a viral infection of the heart.
9. Myocardial infarction: It is a complicated term used for heart attack, when the blood supply to the heart is completely blocked due to narrowing of blood vessels.
10. Ischemic heart disease: It is caused when the blood supply to the heart is reduced due to partial block of blood vessels and can lead to heart attack and other heart disease.
Well, every type of heart disease will have its own set of causes and risk factors but, by large, the cause of heart disease lies in malfunctioning of the blood vessels, heart muscle or electric impulses signalling the heart, as mentioned above. Read about why women are at a greater risk of heart disease than men.
Here are some modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors that can lead to heart disease:
Here are some modifiable risk factors that can be controlled to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Here is a detailed information on risk factors of heart disease.
Heart disease is a silent killer as it progress slowly and is symptomless during the initial stages. But a person could start developing heart disease at a very young age and show the symptoms not before reaching 50s or 60s.
Again the signs or symptoms of heart disease may not be the same for every type. Here are the most common signs associated with heart disease.
1. Shortness of breath (dyspnoea): Breathlessness is commonly experienced by patients with heart failure. It is also a warning sign of heart attack.
2. Chest pain: Chest pain (angina) is a classic symptom of heart attack and coronary artery disease (CAD). In some cases, chest pain is associated with inflammation of the tissue covering the heart (pericardium). Are you aware of these 10 causes of chest pain?
3. Swelling of feet: Swelling in the feet and ankles is seen in people with congestive heart failure where the blood pumping capacity of the heart reduces.
4. Cold sweat: A person who is likely to get a heart attack sooner may start sweating profusely without any physical exertion.
5. Tiredness or fatigue: It is one of the common symptoms of heart failure and heart attack in women is unexplained overall weakness and fatigue. Fatigue is also common in the elderly population or people with diabetes who suffer from heart disease. Read about when does fatigue means much more than tiredness.
If you have any of the above signs, you should consult a cardiologist and get your heart check up done before any complication arises.
Screening for heart function is a must, especially if you have non-modifiable risk factors that increase your susceptibility to heart disease. People who already have high cholesterol, triglycerides BP need to be extra careful and frequent with screening of heart function. You may also like to read about ten life-saving tests for a better health.
1. Blood test: Blood is the pool of several markers like blood sugar, fibrinogen level, C-reactive protein and lipids, pointing at your possibility of developing heart disease.
2. X-ray: Chest X-ray is a simple, useful imaging test for diagnosing a lot of heart conditions like congestive heart failure, enlargement of the heart and heart infections.
3. ECG: ECG or electrocardiogram is a useful test to assess heart rhythm and related heart conditions. It measures electrical activity of the heart.
There are many more heart function tests. Here’s detailed information about them -- 8 tests that can tell if you have heart disease.
Lifestyle changes are diet medication form a major part of treatment of heart disease. But heart disease can be treated with medicines and surgical interventions depending on your condition. Read about 5 types of heart disease common in type 2 diabetics.
#1 Medicines for heart disease
There are several classes of drugs that help in treatment of heart disease depending on factors that pose a risk.
Cholesterol lowering drugs (statins) help to reduce cholesterol, thereby preventing plaque formation leading to heart disease due to atherosclerosis.
Anticoagulants (blood thinning agents) are prescribed to prevent clotting of blood and enlargement of existing blood clots.
Diuretics are a class of drugs used to decrease fluid accumulation in the body. They are prescribed to patients with high blood pressure. Here's everything you should know about medicines for heart disease — use, side-effects, interactions and precautions.
Antiplatelet drugs like aspirin may be recommended to prevent blood clotting.
Beta blockers are another class of drugs that are used to slow down the heart rate and lessen the contracting force with which the heart beats.
Nitrates or nitroglycerin are usually prescribed to patients who have chest pain.
#2 Surgical intervention
Due to improved healthcare and technology, heart disease can be well treated with heart surgeries. Here are some commonly used surgical treatments.
- Angioplasty: It is the most common surgery performed to open up blocked arteries in patients with coronary heart disease with the help of a small device called stent. Here are indications, procedure, risks of angioplasty.
- Bypass surgery: In this surgery, a healthy blood vessel is used to form a bypass or another route for the heart to pump blood to the other body parts to make up for a blockage in a coronary (heart artery). This new blood vessel is called a graft and the proper name for the procedure is ‘coronary artery bypass graft surgery’
- Pacemaker implantation: A pacemaker may be implanted in patients with congestive heart failure or cardiomyopathy. Pacemaker is a tiny device that transmits electric signals to the heart muscle helping it to maintain a heart rate and rhythm.Read about could your pacemaker be malfunctioning?
- Heart transplant: Heart transplant is rarely performed because acquiring a healthy heart is difficult and matching the recipient is even more difficult.
Any problem that affects the pumping ability of the heart is likely to cause it to work even harder; when this happens, it paves the way for heart disease that is potentially life-threatening.
So, it’s important to ensure your heart stays healthy through regular exercise and by eating the right type of food. Several herbs also promote heart health and you would do well to consider adding them to your diet.
Read about Take the natural route to heart health – home remedies that work!
Alternative therapies are quite effective in prevention as well as combating heart disease. Here are some popular alternative remedies that you can try -
Yoga: To help our heart function better we don’t need to wait for a signal that our heart is unwell. Know that prevention is the best way to stay healthy and this is where yoga can help. Some of them are Yogendra Nishpandabhava, Anitya Bhavana, Sthitaprarthanasana and Dradhasana. Read more about which yoga poses should one avoid when suffering a heart disease?
Reiki: According to Harvard Medical School, biofield therapies such as Reiki and healing touch can relax heart patients since these treatments have shown positive results in patients hospitalized for heart problems. Read to know more Reiki for heart disease.
Here are some exercise tips for people with heart disease.
Although you cannot do anything about the non-modifiable risk factors, you manage controllable risk factors and easily reduce your overall heart disease risk. Dr Aashish Contractor, Head of Department, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation of the Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai offers some tips to prevent heart disease.
1. Quit smoking: Even occasional or ‘social smoking’ is dangerous and increases the risk of heart disease. The good news is that no matter how long you have been smoking, you will feel better, and begin reaping rewards as soon as you kick the habit. Read more about 25 things that happen inside your body when you smoke.
2. Eat healthy food: Eating healthy is a starting point of keeping heart disease at bay. Simple changes like switching to heart-healthy cooking oils, limiting salt and sugar can help prevent heart disease. Add more fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. You may also like to read about foods you should avoid if suffering from heart disease.
3. Avoid leading a sedentary lifestyle: Exercising daily is a must, even if it is for 30-45 min. Regular physical activity helps you control your weight and reduce your chances of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may put a strain on your heart.
Read more about 7 innovative ways to keep your child’s heart healthy.
The content has been verified by Dr Nilesh Gautam, Senior Interventional Cardiologist, Head of Department of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation at the Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai.