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Heart Disease - Pathology, Types, Complications and Prevention

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Diseases related to the heart are called cardiovascular diseases. This article highlights common heart diseases and their symptoms.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Basuki Nath Bhagat

Published At October 13, 2022
Reviewed AtJuly 17, 2023

Introduction

To understand heart diseases, we should know the basic functioning of the heart. The heart is a muscle-based organ. It is situated on the slight left to the center of the chest. The heart's upper chambers are called the atrium, and the lower chambers are called the ventricles. These chambers are further divided as right and left. The left side of the heart supplies blood and nutrients throughout the body. The right side of the heart carries the blood to the lungs for oxygenation. The heart consists of valves, which open only one way when required. They prevent undue leakage of the blood. The heart receives electric signals to pump correctly and maintain normal blood flow.

Following are the various types of cardiovascular diseases:

Coronary Heart Disease:

The coronary artery is the artery that supplies the muscles of the heart. When plaque builds in the coronary artery, it causes the narrowing of the artery. This disturbs the blood and nutrient supply to the heart leading to ischemia. Ischemia is a condition in which oxygen supply is absent. Whenever there is a complete or partial blockage of blood and nutrient supply, it can cause myocardial infarction or heart attack. When the aorta weakens and bulges outwards, it is called an aneurysm. If it bursts, it causes internal bleeding.

Coronary heart disease presents with the following symptoms:

  • Nausea, heartburn, and stomach pain.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Fatigue.

  • Cold skin.

  • Sweating.

  • Dizziness.

  • Angina (pain and tightness in the chest or arm.)

  • This pain might refer to other areas like the neck, jaw, or back.

  • Heart attack (sudden blockage of blood and nutrient supply to the heart).

  • Heart failure occurs when the heart fails to pump blood.

Hypertension

When blood pressure is measured, it consists of two numbers. The upper is the systolic blood pressure, and the lower is diastolic. The upper number denotes the pressure blood exerts on the walls of arteries when it is pushed out of the heart. A lower number denotes pressure exerted by the blood when it fills the heart. 120/80 mmHg is considered to be a normal blood pressure level. Anything above 140/90 is considered primary hypertension. High blood pressure causes the loosening of vessels. A bulge develops in the vessel, which is called an aneurysm. These aneurysms can burst and lead to hemorrhage. Increased pressure leads to the thickening of muscle and makes pumping of the blood difficult. The following are the risk factors for hypertension.

  • Certain medications can increase blood pressure.

  • Smoking.

  • High sodium diet.

  • Chronic stress.

  • No physical activities.

  • Alcohol/ caffeine consumption.

Valvular Heart Disease:

The valve is a structure in the heart that prevents the backflow of blood into veins and the heart. The valvular disease can be inborn, or valves can be damaged due to infection in the heart lining, rheumatic diseases, or connective tissue diseases. The mitral valve is a bicuspid valve that separates the atrium's upper left chamber from the ventricle's lower left chamber. If this valve does not close properly, it leads to a backflow of blood in the atrium. Valvular heart disease presents with the following features.

  • This leads to an enlarged ventricle (lower chamber.)

  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat.)

  • Risk of stroke or heart attack.

Stroke:

When the blood supply to the brain is hampered, it leads to stroke. A stroke is also termed a transient ischemic attack.

Stroke shows the following features:

  • The face shows drooping on one side and the inability to smile.

  • Arms cannot be lifted, and there is weakness and numbness in the arms.

  • Speech is slurred.

Heart Arrhythmias:

Heart arrhythmias is a condition in which heartbeats are either too fast or too slow. Arrhythmias are generally seen along with other heart diseases like congenital defects, coronary artery diseases, and valvular heart diseases. Some risk factors associated with arrhythmias are diabetes, drug abuse, high blood pressure, smoking, and stress.

Heart arrhythmias present with the following symptoms:

  • Flutter in the chest.

  • Tachycardia (increased heartbeat).

  • Bradycardia (decreased heartbeat).

  • Chest pain.

  • Dyspnea, shortness of breath.

  • Dizziness.

  • Unconsciousness.

Congenital Heart Defect:

When a person is born with defects in the heart that are noticed after birth, congenital heart defects develop when a baby is in the uterus. Heart defects can develop as the heart develops after conception. They occur either due to medical conditions, medications, or genetic reasons.

A baby with a congenital heart defect presents with the following features.

  • Cyanosis (grayish or bluish discoloration of the skin.)

  • Swelling in the periorbital region (around the eyes and abdomen.)

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Difficulty feeding the child which leads to malnourishment.

Endocarditis:

Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner lining of heart tissue and valves of the heart. It is mainly caused due to bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections in the heart's lining.

Endocarditis presents as follows:

  • Fever.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Fatigue (weakness.)

  • Swollen legs or ankle edema.

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat.)

  • Cough.

  • Rashes on skin.

Cardiomyopathy:

Cardiomyopathy means the thickening of the heart muscle. This can happen due to increased blood pressure. Increased pressure leads to the thickening of the heart muscle. This leads to poor pumping of blood to vital organs.

It can occur due to the following reasons:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy.

  • When the blood flow to the heart decreases due to past damage.

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

  • This occurs due to high blood pressure over a long period.

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy.

  • This occurs due to loss of elasticity and rigidity of heart muscles.

Cardiomyopathy presents as follows:

  • Dizziness and lightheadedness.

  • Swelling in ankles.

  • Heart flutter or increased heartbeat.

  • Lethargy and tiredness.

How to Diagnose Heart Disease?

Various tests can help us diagnose heart disease. The doctor will assess medical, surgical, and family history. Based on the results, further tests can be ordered.

  • Blood Tests: This can be carried out to detect the level of cholesterol in the blood.

  • Stress Test: The activity on a treadmill will determine how much stress the heart can bear.

  • Computed Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging: These involve computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging which will help determine the position of clots in the blood vessels.

  • Electrocardiogram(ECG): Checks the rhythm and electric activity of the heart.

  • Angiography: Angiography involves the use of radioactive dyes to determine the position of clots.

What Are the Complications Associated With Heart Disease?

Whenever someone is diagnosed with heart disease, it is important to take measures to slow down the progression of the disease. Heart diseases have some fatal outcomes if not treated at the right time.

  • Heart Attack: A blockage in the blood supply to the heart due to a blood clot. This can stop the heart’s function.

  • Stroke: This happens when there is a blockage in the arteries which supply blood to the brain.

  • Heart Failure: This is a condition when the heart cannot pump blood and meet the body's requirements.

  • Peripheral Artery Disease: Insufficient blood supply to extremities, mostly legs, due to blood pooling.

  • Aneurysm: When a certain part of the artery wall bulges, it is termed an aneurysm. This aneurysm can burst and lead to internal bleeding.

How to Prevent Heart Disease?

  • Lifestyle changes can help prevent heart diseases, such as regular exercise and indulging in physical activity.

  • The dietary modification includes consuming a low sodium diet and low fat.

  • Maintaining weight and decreasing stress levels by practicing meditation or yoga relieves stress.

Conclusion

Heart conditions can prove to be life-threatening. Knowing about their development, diagnosis, and treatment is important. Focus on the importance of a good diet. Exercise and maintenance of weight are important for heart health. Following preventive measures at the right time and timely consultation with the physician can help us detect and treat them at the earliest.

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Dr. Basuki Nath Bhagat
Dr. Basuki Nath Bhagat

Family Physician

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