If you're like most people, you think that heart disease is a problem for other folks. But heart disease is the number one killer. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many different forms of heart disease. The most common cause of heart disease is narrowing or blocking of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. This is called coronary artery disease. It happens slowly over time. It's the major reason people have heart attacks. Other kinds of heart problems may happen to the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and cause heart failure. Some people are born with heart disease. You can help reduce your risk of heart disease by taking steps to control factors that put you at greater risk:
• Control your blood pressure.
• Lower your cholesterol.
• Don't smoke.
• Get enough exercise.
The heart is the most important muscle in the body. It continuously pumps blood throughout the body to give tissues and organs the nutrients they need. There are many diseases that can affect the heart. Treatment for heart diseases depends on the cause of the disease. Treatment may include surgery or medicines. Other treatments may also be used. This program will help you understand heart diseases. It talks about common diseases of the heart and treatment options. It also explains how you can lower your risk of heart diseases.
This section explains how the heart works. It will help you understand the most common heart diseases. The heart has 2 sides; the right side and the left side. Each side of the heart has 2 chambers. One chamber is called the atrium. The other is called the ventricle. This is how blood flows through the body
1. After the body uses oxygen that is in the blood, the blood enters the heart through the right atrium.
2. The right atrium contracts. Blood is then pumped to the right ventricle through the tricuspid valve.
3. The right ventricle contracts. The blood is then pumped to the lungs, passing through the pulmonary valve.
4. In the lungs, the blood is loaded with the oxygen that we breathe.
5. From the lungs, the oxygen-rich blood goes to the left atrium.
6. The left atrium contracts. The blood is pumped to the left ventricle through the mitral valve.
7. The left ventricle contracts. The blood is then pumped to the whole body through its biggest artery after passing through the aortic valve. The biggest artery is called the aorta.
8. From the first part of the aorta, arteries go to the heart to give it the oxygen and nutrients it needs. These are known as coronary arteries. Worldwide, each year over 7 million people die from diseases of the coronary arteries.
9. In the body, the organs and tissues take oxygen from the blood.
10. Finally, the blood goes back to the right atrium. The whole cycle starts again.
The contractions of the heart muscles are synchronized. This means they happen at the same time. First the two atria contract together. Then the two ventricles contract together. Diseases of the muscles of the heart are common. These diseases are known as cardiomyopathy. A small electric current tells the muscles of the heart to contract and pump blood. The electric current starts in a small place inside the heart. This place is called the sinus node. The electric current causes the atria to contract and pump blood to the ventricles. Problems with the electrical current can cause arrhythmias. Arrhythmias affect millions of people worldwide. From the sinus node, the electric current travels through fibers. These fibers are like electric cables. They lead to another area between the atria and the ventricles. This area is called the AV node. From the AV node, the electric current goes to the ventricles. This causes them to contract and pump blood.
The symptoms of heart disease depend on the cause. Some people may not have symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, there are common symptoms which are described here. Common signs and symptoms of heart diseases are:
• Chest pain, especially after exercise or heavy meals.
• Extreme tiredness.
• Shortness of breath or trouble breathing, especially while being physically active.
• Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen.
• Swollen veins in the neck.
Other common symptoms of heart diseases are:
• Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting during physical activity.
• Heart murmurs.
• Irregular heartbeats.
The three common heart diseases are coronary artery disease, heart valve disease and cardiomyopathy. These will be explained in the next sections.
Coronary artery disease is also known as CAD. CAD is the most common type of heart disease. It happens when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hard and narrow. This is due to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when plaque builds up inside your arteries. Plaque is a waxy substance. It is made up of fat and cholesterol. It is also made up of other substances found in the blood. The buildup grows over many years. It limits the amount of blood that can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can’t get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain, known as angina, or a heart attack. Blood clots can form in the arteries and block them. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts’ blood supply. This causes permanent heart damage. Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle. It can lead to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure can cause many problems. It can cause extra fluid in the body and weight gain. It can also cause shortness of breath. A treatment plan can help manage heart failure and lengthen life. Some arrhythmias are harmless. Others can be life threatening. Treatment may be needed. Treatment for CAD often includes lifestyle changes. Examples are a healthy diet and regular exercise. Treatment may also involve medicines. These can be used to:
• Lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
• Prevent blood clots.
• Reduce your heart’s workload and relieve symptoms.
• Treat diabetes.
Medical procedures and surgeries may be needed in some cases. The goal of these treatments is to improve blood flow to the heart.
Heart valve disease happens when one or more of the heart’s four valves do not work well. Valves in the heart make sure blood flows the right way. When valves do not work correctly, it can cause serious problems. Heart valve disease can cause blood to leak back through the valve. This lets blood go in the wrong direction. When this happens, it is called regurgitation. If a valve doesn’t open enough, it can block blood flow. This is called stenosis. It can be caused by the valve becoming thickened, stiff, or fused together. Sometimes a heart valve lacks an opening for blood to go through. This is called atresia. Mitral valve prolapse is also known as MVP. It is one of the most common heart valve problems. MVP happens when the mitral valve has “floppy” flaps. These flaps don't close tightly. Sometimes it causes regurgitation, but often no treatment is needed. Sometimes valve diseases can be present at the time of birth. These are called congenital heart valve diseases. Other times heart valve disease can be caused by:
• Heart attacks.
• Heart disease or damage.
Some valve problems are small and not serious. These often do not need treatment. Others might need to be treated with medicine. Other valve problems may be more serious. These may need to be treated with medical procedures. Sometimes surgery is needed. The goal of surgery is to repair or replace the damaged valve. Having a heart valve disease can also put you at risk for more damage to your heart. For example, having a valve problem puts you at risk for an infection of the heart's lining. This infection is called infective endocarditis. It is also called IE. IE is often caused by poor dental hygiene. It can worsen your heart valve disease. Talk to your health care provider about your risk for IE and what you can do to prevent it.
Cardiomyopathy is a word used for diseases of the heart muscle. These diseases can enlarge the heart muscle. They can also make it thicker and more rigid than normal. In rare cases, scar tissue replaces the muscle tissue. Some people with cardiomyopathy live long and healthy lives. Other people have serious problems. Cardiomyopathy can make it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. It can also cause arrhythmias. Cardiomyopathy may be caused by heart attacks or high blood pressure. Some types of infections can also cause heart muscle diseases. Some types run in families. But in many people the cause is unknown. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, such as a healthy diet and exercise. It may also include medicines or surgery. In some cases, a special procedure can treat cardiomyopathy. Many medicines can help treat cardiomyopathy. These medicines may be used to:
• Lower your blood pressure.
• Prevent an irregular heartbeat.
• Slow your heart rate.
Surgeries or other medical procedures can also treat the disease. Thickened parts of the heart may be removed or destroyed to improve blood flow. Devices may also be implanted to widen arteries and improve blood flow. These treatments can help the heart work better.
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of having a disease. The major risk factors for heart diseases are:
• High blood pressure.
• Lack of exercise.
• Unhealthy cholesterol levels.
There are things you can do to lower your risk for heart diseases. This section offers tips to lower your risk. Eating a healthy diet is important in preventing heart diseases. This includes eating:
• Foods low in cholesterol.
• More white meat and white fish instead of red meat and shellfish.
• Lots of fruits and vegetables.
People with high blood pressure should limit the amount of salt in their diet. Salt can raise blood pressure and lead to narrow arteries. There are many salt substitutes. These can provide taste without harmful salt. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart diseases. Quitting lowers your risk, but it can be difficult. Many programs are available to help you stop smoking. Your health care provider can help you choose the program best suited for you. You should also exercise regularly to lower your risk. Exercising leads to weight loss. This can lower your cholesterol levels. It can also lower your blood pressure. If you have a heart disease, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Obesity can also raise your risk for heart diseases. A well-balanced diet and regular exercise can help you lose the extra weight. Losing weight should be done slowly. Your health care provider or nutritionist can help you. Learning how to manage stress can lower the risk of heart diseases. Avoid stressful situations and find ways to help you cope. People with diabetes have a higher risk for heart diseases. Diabetes is a disease in which your blood sugar levels are too high. The sugar comes from the foods you eat. Managing diabetes is important to lower your risk of heart diseases.
The heart is the most important muscle in the body. It continuously pumps blood throughout the body to give tissues and organs the nutrients they need. There are many diseases that can affect the heart. Common heart diseases are:
• Coronary artery disease.
• Heart valve disease.
Treatment for heart diseases depends on the cause of the disease. Treatment may include surgery or medicines. Other treatments may also be used. There are things you can do to control the risk factors for heart diseases. Some of these things are:
• Eating a healthy diet.
• Exercising regularly.
• Maintaining a healthy weight.
• Treating any underlying diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
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