Heart disease describes any disorder that directly impacts the structure or function of the heart. It results from damage to part or all of the heart, poor supply of nutrients and oxygen to the heart, and damage to the coronary arteries. Some individuals have congenital heart disease, and some cases are the result of a genetic variation. A host of lifestyle choices can increase the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is diagnosed using a variety of tests, including electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, chest x-ray, cardiac catheterization, stress test, and CT heart scan.
There are quite a few options for heart disease treatment. Patients may take medication for heart disease, such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers. Lifestyle changes, such as following a low-sodium diet for heart disease or exercising regularly, are also helpful. Surgery for heart disease is also possible. Ultimately, the best treatment for heart disease depends on the type a patient has. Learn about the various types of heart disease now.
Heart Rhythm Disorders
Arrhythmias, also called heart rhythm disorders, are a form of heart disease where an individual's heart cannot maintain a healthy and regular rhythm or beating pattern. Heart rhythm disorders result from a malfunction that occurs with the electrical activity and path in the heart responsible for coordinating the heartbeat. A patient's heart may beat too slow, too fast, or in an abnormal rhythm. The electrical mechanisms in the heart can malfunction from an underlying cause such as scarred heart tissue, coronary artery disease, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism. Other examples of underlying causes include excessive alcohol consumption, stress, certain medications, sleep apnea, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes.
Symptoms of heart rhythm disorders include a racing heartbeat, a slow heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, chest pain, dizziness, fainting, and lightheadedness. Common heart rhythm disorders include bradycardia, atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, atrial flutter, supraventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. Other examples are Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, long QT syndrome, sick sinus syndrome, conduction block, and premature heartbeats.
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Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease is a form of heart disease where an individual's coronary arteries become narrowed or blocked over time. The most common cause of this disease is a condition referred to as atherosclerosis. This condition occurs when the inner walls of an individual's arteries become hard and narrow from the buildup of plaque, a substance made of cholesterol and fatty deposits. When this buildup occurs in one or both of the coronary arteries that supply the muscle tissues of the heart with blood and oxygen, it is referred to as coronary artery disease. This narrowing can cause the tissues in the heart to become damaged when they do not receive enough blood and oxygen.
Signs of coronary artery disease can be difficult to distinguish from other heart conditions. Acute issues that tend to occur more often in coronary artery disease patients include stable angina, silent ischemia, development of collateral circulation, and unstable angina. Two other examples are ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction and non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction. Electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, exercise stress test, chest x-ray, coronary angiogram, and cardiac catheterization are used to diagnose coronary artery disease.
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Heart failure occurs when an individual's heart is unable to meet their body's demands because it cannot pump blood well enough. Other conditions can cause individuals to develop heart failure. Examples include high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, faulty heart valves, cardiomyopathy, myocarditis, congenital heart defects, heart arrhythmia, and diabetes.
Heart failure can be classified into different types depending on what region is failing. Left-sided heart failure causes blood and fluid to back up in the lungs because the left side of the heart cannot pump enough blood fast enough out of the heart. Fluid may back up in the patient's feet, abdomen, and legs when they have right-sided heart failure because the heart cannot pump enough blood fast enough into the lungs. Systolic heart failure means the patient's heart is unable to contract vigorously and has a pumping malfunction. Diastolic heart failure means an individual's left ventricle cannot relax entirely and has a filling malfunction.
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Structural Heart Disease
Structural heart disease happens when an individual is born with an abnormality in the function or structure of their heart or when wear and tear have altered the heart's structure or function. Aortic valve stenosis occurs when the valve that allows blood to flow from the heart into the aorta becomes stiff and cannot open fully. An atrial septal defect is a structural heart disease where there is a hole that allows blood to flow back and forth between the atria in the heart. Heart valve disease occurs when blood cannot flow through the heart properly because one or more valves are damaged.
Mitral valve regurgitation is a structural heart disease that allows blood flow back into the heart because of an abnormal mitral valve. When the left ventricle muscle wall becomes too thick, it is referred to as left ventricular hypertrophy. Cardiomyopathy is a structural heart disease where the heart muscle has become enlarged and stiff. Marfan's syndrome causes problems with a patient's mitral valve or an aortic aneurysm.
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Coronary Vascular Disease
Coronary vascular disease is a type of heart disease where the coronary arteries do not work properly due to blood vessel abnormalities unrelated to plaque buildup. Most coronary vascular diseases are in the form of an anomalous coronary artery. This is where the artery has a malformation or abnormality. Some cases of anomalous coronary arteries are related to an irregular location of one or both of the coronary arteries. Others are related to abnormalities of the coronary artery shape and size. In addition, several other types of vascular disease can affect the coronary arteries. An aneurysm is a form of vascular disease that can occur in the coronary arteries where the artery wall bulges or balloons.
Blood vessel spasms that arise due to Raynaud's disease or another mechanism can cause coronary vasospasm. This is where the coronary arteries inappropriately contract and restrict blood flow to the heart tissues. A coronary artery dissection is a form of vascular disease where the artery wall experiences a tear that may enlarge over time. Another type of vascular disease that can affect the coronary arteries is called systemic vasculitis, where the coronary arteries become inflamed due to an infection or an abnormal immune response.
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Congenital Heart Defects
As the name suggests, congenital heart defects are heart issues that are present at birth. Specifically, this means that the heart or vessels around the heart do not develop properly before the baby is born. In many instances, the affected baby will require heart surgery either immediately after birth or within the first few years of their life, depending on the specific heart defect.
There are many potential congenital heart defects out there. One example is pulmonary atresia, which is a condition where the baby's pulmonary valve does not form correctly or at all. This is the valve that controls the flow of blood from the right ventricle to the lungs. Pulmonary atresia means that blood cannot flow to the lung to pick up oxygen. Many patients need medication to improve blood flow until they can receive surgery to widen or replace the valve. Other congenital heart defects include tetralogy of Fallot, Ebstein anomaly, atrial septal defect, and truncus ateriosus.
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Heart infections are serious infections that can result in significant heart damage and potentially life-threatening complications. In most cases, heart infections are from viruses or bacteria, though rare cases can be due to fungi. A common heart infection is called endocarditis. It involves the infection or inflammation of the innermost layer of the heart, which is called the endocardium. Myocarditis, another type of heart infection, involves the myocardium, which is the heart's middle muscular layer. This heart infection is quite rare, but it is serious. It can affect the electrical system of the heart and trigger abnormal or rapid heart rhythms. Pericarditis, another heart infection, involves the pericardium, which is the outer layer of the heart.
Symptoms of these heart infections include severe chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, abdominal swelling, and leg swelling. Patients may also experience joint, muscle, and body aches, as well as fatigue and fever. Pericarditis may cause heart palpitations, and as mentioned, myocarditis may result in arrhythmias.
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An aortic aneurysm, which can be called a heart aneurysm, is on that occurs in the aorta. This is the blood vessel that is responsible for carrying blood from an individual's heart to the rest of their body. An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the aorta. It can occur in any part of the aorta, and can be round or tube-shaped. Two common aortic aneurysms are the abdominal aortic aneurysm and the thoracic aortic aneurysm. The former occurs in the section of the aorta that travels through the abdomen. The latter type is found in the section that passes through the chest cavity.
The abdominal type is slow-growing and does not often trigger early symptoms. However, when symptoms do appear, they include back pain, a pulse near the belly button, and deep and constant abdominal pain. Symptoms of a thoracic aortic aneurysm do not often appear early, since this type is also slow-growing. Of course, symptoms can appear over time and include back pain, shortness of breath, chest pain or tenderness, coughing, and hoarseness. Both aneurysms require medical monitoring and often surgery to treat them. The thoracic type also carries medication as a treatment for some patients.
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Heart murmurs are another type of heart condition. They are sounds caused by blood in or near the affected individual's heart. The sounds can often be heard as swishing or whooshing sounds. Heart murmurs can be congenital, meaning they are present at birth, or develop over time. Innocent heart murmurs are harmless, do not indicate heart disease, and typically do not require any treatment. They do not trigger other symptoms aside from the sound itself.
Abnormal heart murmurs, however, have an underlying cause and often do require treatment. Symptoms of abnormal heart murmurs vary depending on the cause. Examples of symptoms include shortness of breath, sudden weight gain, an enlarged liver, chronic cough, chest pain, fatigue, and dizziness. Blue-tinged skin, particularly on the lips and fingertips, is another sign of an abnormal heart murmur.
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Inherited Heart Conditions
Inherited heart conditions cover a range of rare heart diseases. They are the result of a mutation in one or more genes. With one of these conditions, individuals with a genetic mutation can have a fifty-fifty chance of passing the same mutation, and thus the condition, on to their children. The majority of research on inherited heart conditions surrounds those that can result in serious arrhythmias and potentially sudden cardiac death. One significant example is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can cause a deadly arrhythmia. Other symptoms, though rare, include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and fainting.
Examples of common inherited heart conditions that can trigger arrhythmias are Long QT syndrome, Short QT syndrome, and Brugada syndrome. The first two involve abnormally long or short QT intervals. This interval is the electrical recovery phase of the heartbeat. Long QT syndrome can result in rapid and chaotic heartbeats and cause fainting. Seizures happen in some patients. Sudden death is rare, but can happen in Long QT syndrome. Short QT syndrome fainting and heart palpitations as common symptoms. However, sudden cardiac death is also common in Short QT syndrome and may even be the first symptom.