Heart diseases describe a range of diseases that affect the heart. Diseases classified as heart diseases include diseases of the blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease, problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias) and heart defects with which you were born (congenital heart defects), among others.
The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” “Cardiovascular disease” often refers to diseases that involve a narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels that can cause a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart diseases, such as those that affect the muscles, valves or heart rhythm, are also considered forms of heart disease.
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with choices of a healthy lifestyle.
The symptoms of heart disease depend on the type of heart disease you have.
Symptoms of cardiovascular disease in blood vessels (atherosclerotic disease)
The symptoms of cardiovascular disease may be different for men and women. For example, men are more likely to suffer chest pain; Women may have other symptoms along with discomforts in the chest, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.
Symptoms may include the following:
- Chest pain, tightness in the chest, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain, numbness, weakness and cold sensation in the legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of the body become narrow
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back
You may not be diagnosed with the cardiovascular disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke, or heart failure. It is important that you control cardiovascular symptoms and communicate your concerns to your doctor. Cardiovascular disease can be detected early with periodic evaluations.
Symptoms of heart disease caused by abnormal heartbeats (cardiac arrhythmias)
Cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. It is possible that your heart beats too fast, too slow or irregularly. Symptoms of arrhythmia include the following:
- The sensation of flapping in the chest
- Accelerated heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Difficulty breathing
- Fainting (syncope) or feeling faint
Symptoms of heart disease caused by heart defects
Serious congenital heart defects, which are defects that you are born with, are usually evident shortly after birth. Symptoms of a heart defect in children can include the following:
- Pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
- Swelling in the legs, abdomen, or area around the eyes
- In an infant, difficulty breathing during breastfeeding, which generates little weight gain
Less severe congenital heart defects are often not diagnosed until later in childhood or during adulthood. Signs and symptoms of congenital heart defects that do not usually endanger life immediately include the following:
- Having difficulty breathing shortly during exercise or physical activity
- Get tired easily during exercise or physical activity
- Swelling of the hands, ankles or feet
The symptoms of heart disease are caused by the weakness of the heart muscle (dilated cardiomyopathy)
In the early stages of cardiomyopathy, you may not have symptoms. As the disease worsens, symptoms may include the following:
- Shortness of breath when you make efforts or rest
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
- Irregular heartbeats that feel fast, strong or like fluttering
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting
Symptoms of heart disease caused by heart infections
Endocarditis is an infection that affects the internal membrane that separates the chambers and valves of the heart (endocardium). Symptoms of heart infection include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Weakness or fatigue
- Swelling in the legs or abdomen
- Changes in heart rhythm
- Dry or persistent cough
- Skin rashes or unusual spots
Symptoms of heart disease caused by alular heart disease
The heart has four valves: aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid, which open and close to direct the flow of blood through the heart. A variety of diseases can damage the valves and can cause narrowing (stenosis), filtering (regurgitation or insufficiency) or inadequate closure (prolapse).
Depending on which valve is not working properly, the symptoms of the alular disease usually include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heart rhythm
- Swollen feet or ankles
- Chest pain
- Fainting (syncope)
When should you see a doctor?
Seek emergency medical attention if you have the following symptoms of heart disease:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Heart diseases are easier to treat when they are detected early, so talk to your doctor about your concerns related to the health of your heart. If you are worried about heart disease, talk with your doctor about the steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease.
If you think you may have heart disease, depending on the new signs or symptoms you are having, request a turn to see your doctor.
Chambers and heart valves
The heart is a bomb. It is a muscular organ about the size of your fist, located slightly to the left of the center of the chest. The heart is divided into the right side and the left side. This division prevents oxygen-rich blood from mixing with oxygen-poor blood. Oxygen-poor blood returns to the heart after it circulates throughout the body.
- The right side of the heart, which consists of the right atrium and the right ventricle, collects and pumps blood to the lungs through the pulmonary arteries.
- The lungs renew the blood with a new supply of oxygen. The lungs also exhale carbon dioxide, a waste of the body.
- Next, the oxygen-rich blood enters the left side of the heart, which consists of the left atrium and the left ventricle.
- The left side of the heart pumps blood through the aorta to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues throughout the body.
Four valves in the heart cause the blood to be directed in the correct direction by opening a single path and only when they need it. In order for it to work properly, the valve must have the proper shape, it must open completely and it must be closed firmly so that there are no leaks. The four valves are the following:
- Tricuspid valve
- Mitral valve
- Pulmonary valve
- Aortic valve
A beating heart contracts and relaxes in a continuous cycle.
- During contraction (systole), your ventricles contract, which directs blood from the blood vessels to the lungs and the rest of the body.
- During relaxation (diastole), the ventricles fill with blood coming from the upper cavities (right and left atria).
The electrical circuit of the heart causes can, which controls the continuous exchange of blood rich in oxygen and oxygen-poor blood. This exchange makes you alive.
- The electrical impulses start in the upper area in the right atrium and travel through specialized pathways to the ventricles, and carry the signal for the heart to pump.
- The driving system keeps your heart beating at a coordinated and normal rhythm, which keeps the blood in circulation.
Various causes of heart disease
The causes of heart disease vary according to the type of heart disease.
Development of atherosclerosis
While the cardiovascular disease may refer to different problems of the heart or blood vessels, the term is often used to indicate damage to the heart or blood vessels resulting from atherosclerosis, an accumulation of fatty plaques in the arteries. Plaque buildup thickens and hardens the walls of the artery, and this can inhibit blood flow through the arteries to organs and tissues.
Atherosclerosis is also the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It can be a consequence of correctable problems, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, overweight and smoking.
Causes of cardiac arrhythmia
Common causes of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or diseases that cause arrhythmia include the following:
- Heart defects of birth (congenital heart defects)
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages or caffeine
- Drugs abuse
- Some over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements, and herbal remedies
In a healthy person with a normal and healthy heart, it is unlikely that a fatal arrhythmia will develop without some external trigger, such as an electric shock or the consumption of illicit drugs. This is mainly because the heart of a healthy person does not have abnormal disorders that cause an arrhythmia, such as an area of scar tissue.
However, in a diseased or deformed heart, it is possible that the electrical impulses of the heart do not begin or are transported appropriately through the heart, and this makes it more likely that arrhythmias will appear.
Causes of congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects usually develop while the baby is in the womb. Heart defects can develop as the heart forms, about a month after conception, and change the blood flow in the heart. Some diseases, some medicines, and some genes can play a decisive role in the appearance of heart defects.
Heart defects can also occur in adults. As you get older, the structure of the heart can change, and cause a heart defect.
Causes of cardiomyopathy
The cause of cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening or enlargement of the heart muscle, may depend on the type:
- Dilated cardiomyopathy. The cause of this type of most common cardiomyopathy is often unknown. It can be caused by reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemic heart disease), which is the result of damage caused by a heart attack, infections, toxins or certain medications. It can also be inherited from one of the parents. It usually enlarges (dilates) the left ventricle.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. In general, this type of cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, is inherited. It can also develop over time because of high blood pressure or because of age.
- Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. The less common type of cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscle to become stiff and less elastic, can happen for no apparent reason. Or it may be due to diseases, such as connective tissue disorders, excessive accumulation of iron in the body (hemochromatosis), accumulation of abnormal proteins (amyloidosis), or some oncological treatments.
Causes of a heart infection
A heart infection, such as endocarditis, occurs when an irritating agent, such as a bacteria, a virus, or a chemical substance, reaches the heart muscle. The most common causes of heart infections are:
Causes of heart valve disease
There are many causes for diseases of the heart valves. The disease of the valves can exist from birth or the damage can be caused by diseases such as the following:
- Rheumatic fever
- Infections (infectious endocarditis)
- Connective tissue disorders
The risk factors for presenting a heart disease include the following:
- Aging increases the risk of arteries becoming damaged and narrowed, and the heart muscle weakening or thickening.
- In general, men are at higher risk of heart disease. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.
- Family background. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if one of your parents developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and before 65 years for a female relative, like your mother or sister).
- Nicotine contracts blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage its inner lining, making them more prone to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more frequent in smokers than in non-smokers.
- Some chemotherapy and radiotherapy drugs for cancer. It may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease with some chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments.
- Bad nutrition. A diet high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to heart disease.
- High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries, narrowing the vessels through which the blood circulates.
- High levels of blood cholesterol. High blood cholesterol levels can increase the risk of plaque formation and atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
- Excess weight usually worsens other risk factors.
- Lack of physical activity Lack of exercise is also associated with many forms of heart disease and with some of its other risk factors.
- Untreated stress can damage arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
- Poor hygiene does not wash your hands regularly and do not generate other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk for heart infections, especially if you already have an undiagnosed heart condition. Poor dental hygiene can also contribute to heart disease.
Complications of heart disease include the following:
- Heart failure. Heart failure, one of the most frequent complications of heart disease, occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart failure can be due to many forms of heart disease, including heart defects, cardiovascular disease, valvular heart disease, heart infections, or cardiomyopathy.
- Heart attack. A blood clot that blocks the flow of blood through a blood vessel that supplies the heart causes a heart attack, possibly damaging or destroying a part of the heart muscle. Atherosclerosis can cause a heart attack.
- The risk factors that cause cardiovascular disease can also cause an ischemic stroke, which happens when the arteries that go to the brain are narrowed or obstructed, so that very little blood reaches the brain. A stroke is a medical emergency: within a few minutes, the brain tissue begins to die.
- An aneurysm (a serious complication that can occur anywhere in the body) is a bulge in the wall of the artery. If an aneurysm ruptures, there may be internal bleeding that could be life-threatening.
- Peripheral arterial disease. Atherosclerosis can also cause peripheral arterial disease. When you have peripheral arterial disease, the extremities (usually the legs) do not receive sufficient blood flow. This causes symptoms, especially pain in the leg when walking (claudication).
- Sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden and unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and awareness, often because of an arrhythmia. A sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If it is not treated immediately, it is deadly; causes sudden death due to a heart attack.
Certain heart diseases, such as heart defects, cannot be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other heart diseases by making the same lifestyle changes that can improve the heart disease you have, such as:
- Give up smoking
- Control other diseases, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol and diabetes
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week
- Follow a diet low in salt and saturated fats
- keep a healthy weight
- Reduce and control stress
- Practice good hygiene habits