Information on Heart Disease

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, includes a number of conditions affecting the heart: congestive heart failure, congenital heart disease, and heart attack, among others. If you don’t know the symptoms, you could be at risk and not even know it. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. Keys to prevention include quitting smoking, improving cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising.

The heart consists of a muscle (myocardium) that pumps blood, arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle, and valves to ensure that the blood is pumped in the correct direction. At any point in the pumping process, or in any part of the heart, something can go awry. The diseases and conditions affecting the heart are collectively known as heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. Almost 700,000 people die of heart disease in the U.S. each year. That is about 29% of all U.S. deaths. Heart disease is a term that includes several more specific heart conditions. The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack.

Chest pain (angina pectoris) occurs, for instance, when the oxygen demand of the heart muscle exceeds the oxygen supply because of that narrowing in the coronary arteries. When the imbalance of oxygen supply lasts for more then a few minutes, heart muscle can begin to die, causing a heart attack (myocardial infarction). This may occur without symptoms (silent heart attack), especially in people with diabetes.

Symptoms of heart disease varies according to the type of heart disease. Unfortunately, some heart diseases cause no symptoms early in its course. When symptoms occur, they vary from person to person. Symptoms may may include chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue, palpitations (the sensation of the heart beating in the chest), lightheadedness, and fainting, or feeling about to faint.

A heart attack is an injury to the heart muscle caused by a loss of blood supply. The medical term for heart attack is “myocardial infarction,” often abbreviated MI. A heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a coronary artery — a blood vessel that feeds blood to a part of the heart muscle. Interrupted blood flow to your heart can damage or destroy a part of the heart muscle.

After age 50, your health care provider will recommend a screening colonoscopy. This test involves giving you IV sedation to make you sleepy, then passing a very small, flexible scope into your lower intestine (the colon) via your rectum. It can be a bit uncomfortable, but not painful, and the outcome is well worth this discomfort. This is because the provider can directly visualize any colon polyps that are present and remove them. Colon polyps are usually a type called an “adenoma,” which can develop into a cancer.

High blood pressure increases the heart’s workload, causing the heart to enlarge and weaken over time. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack increases greatly. Although the cause of most high blood pressure is unknown, it can be controlled.

The risk of coronary heart disease can be reduced by taking steps to prevent and control those adverse factors that put people at greater risk for heart disease and heart attack. Additionally, knowing the signs and symptoms of heart attack, calling 911 right away, and getting to a hospital are crucial to the most positive outcomes after having a heart attack. People who have had a heart attack can also work to reduce their risk of future events.