How much do you know about heart disease?
As the heart is one of the body’s most essential organs, it is important to understand how to keep it healthy, especially because heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S.
You can reduce your risk for developing heart disease by learning about the various types of heart disease, understanding the symptoms associated with heart disease and adopting heart-healthy lifestyle strategies.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease, is among the most common type of heart disease. CHD happens when plaque grows in the walls of the coronary arteries and limits the blood flow to the heart’s muscle. CHD can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
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A common symptom associated CHD is angina — pain that can feel like pressure or squeezing in the chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. Angina pain can also feel like indigestion. The pain tends to get worse with activity and is often relieved with rest. Emotional stress can also bring on angina.
Traditional risk factors for CHD include high-LDL cholesterol, low-HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, smoking, a family history of CHD, being older than 45 for a man and being postmenopausal for a woman. Obesity may also be a risk factor for developing CHD.
Electrical impulses from specific areas in the heart initiate your heart beat and ensure its normal pumping function. The term “arrhythmia” describes any change in the heart’s normal electrical impulses. Arrhythmias can cause the heart to beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly, resulting in a broad range of symptoms.
Arrhythmia is one of the most common heart conditions. It may show up as a fluttering feeling in your chest or feeling as though your heart is skipping a beat. If you experience arrhythmias, let your doctor know so they can determine if further examination is necessary.
Heart valve disease
Your heart has four valves that work in unison to make sure that blood is pumped in the proper direction. Heart valve disease can occur when one or more of your four heart valves does not work correctly. The causes of heart valve disease include stenosis, or the thickening or fusing of the valve flaps, preventing the valve from fully opening; regurgitation, or leakage of a valve, causing blood to flow back into the heart; and atresia, the congenital absence of a valve opening, preventing blood from flowing through it.
The signs and symptoms associated with heart valve disease may include the following:
- A heart murmur (an abnormal sound that a physician can hear when he/she is listening to your heart with a stethoscope)
- Shortness of breath (which is worsened with activity)
- Swelling in the ankles, feet or legs
- Elevated neck veins
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Heart failure is not always a term synonymous with your heart’s inability to function. Generally this is a heart condition in which the heart’s pumping capacity is not adequate to meet the demands for blood and oxygen required by the rest of the body. This can be the result of a range of conditions that lead to weakening of the heart muscle.
Conditions that can be associated with the development of heart failure include: CHD, a prior heart attack, uncontrolled hypertension, abnormal heart valves, congenital heart disease (heart defects present at birth) and heart muscle disease.
Similar to heart valve disease, symptoms can include shortness of breath, trouble breathing, fatigue and elevated neck veins, as well as fluid buildup in the ankles, feet, legs and abdomen.
How to take care of your heart
These simple steps can greatly reduce your risk of developing heart disease:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish
- Engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per day
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Taking necessary medications for hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol if directed by your physician
To better understand your personalized risk for heart disease or to discuss your symptoms, request an appointment with a physician at Keck Medicine of USC.