Heart Disease

Heart Disease

  1. What is heart disease?
  2. How does heart disease cause health problems?
  3. What symptoms should I look for?
  4. Who can be affected by heart disease?
  5. Risk factors
  6. Prevention

Heart disease refers to disease affecting the cardiac muscle and arteries. This term more commonly refers to “coronary artery disease”, which is the build up of hard plaque inside the arteries supplying heart muscle. These coronary (heart) plaques consist of calcium, cholesterol, and lipids (fat), which can accumulate inside the arteries over a period of years. When the plaques become large enough, blood flowing through that artery becomes obstructed (“clogged”). This results in the cells supplied beyond this blockage to become starved for oxygen, then these cells become damaged and die, resulting in myocardial infarction, or, “heart attack”.

Heart attacks cause permanent cell death in the heart muscle. This can result in the loss of pumping function leading to a weaker heart, decreased physical capacity, and in some cases progress to heart failure.

A person may experience a variety of symptoms as the cells become starved for oxygen. Chest pain is the most commonly thought of symptom; it may vary from a sharp pain in the middle to left side of the chest, to a more vague, “pressure-like” sensation. A person might feel the pain radiate to their left arm, or even their neck. However, often people’s symptoms may look very different, so it is important to recognize other symptoms that may be easily overlooked. “Atypical” (not-typical) symptoms can include very abrupt fatigue and tiredness, abdominal pain and nausea, sweating, shortness of breath, even syncope (“passing out”).

Any individual can be affected by heart disease. Advancing age is a risk factor. Men are known to be at even higher risk compared to women of their same age and risk factors. Family history of heart disease, myocardial infarction, or stroke, places a person at risk.

Modifiable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (especially Total Cholesterol and LDL), Diabetes mellitus, Obesity, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise. These modifiable risk factors are extremely important as they are within a person’s ability to control, change, and even prevent heart disease.

Preventing heart disease is an extremely important topic in medicine today. Changing a person’s life-style and controlling risk factors are the most important ways of preventing heart disease and heart attacks from ever occurring.

Certain medications can also assist in the prevention of heart disease. Commonly prescribed medications include a baby aspirin (81 mg) and cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. Please talk with your doctor to see if certain medications may be beneficial in your prevention or treatment of heart disease.

It is important to remember the saying, “An ounce of Prevention, is worth a pound of Cure.” Losing weight, preventing obesity, regular aerobic exercise, stopping smoking, and eating a healthy, more balanced diet, are absolutely essential in decreasing your risk for heart disease. Invest in your self and your health of tomorrow, by taking care of your heart- today.

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