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Heart Problems

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Heart Problems

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Many types of heart problems can affect the heart muscles, heart valves, or blood flow to the heart. Learn more about the various types of heart problems.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sapkal Ganeshrao Patilba

Published At July 30, 2019
Reviewed AtDecember 13, 2023

Introduction

Heart problems are the leading cause of death worldwide. In the United States, one in every four deaths is due to heart disease. Problems in the heart can be anything from defects in the blood vessels or the circulatory system, heart rhythm abnormalities, heart muscle abnormalities, and congenital birth defects. Heart problems arise due to some dysfunction in its working that prevents the heart from sending oxygen, blood, and nutrients to other body parts. However, lifestyle changes and medications can improve heart condition and health of a person.

What Are the Types of Heart Problems?

  • Heart diseases involving the blood vessels (atherosclerotic disease):

    • Coronary artery disease.

    • Peripheral arterial disease.

    • Aortic aneurysm.

  • Cardiomyopathy.

  • Hypertensive heart disease.

  • Heart failure.

  • Pulmonary heart disease.

  • Cardiac arrhythmias.

  • Heart infections:

    • Endocarditis.

    • Myocarditis.

    • Pericarditis.

  • Valvular heart disease.

  • Congenital heart disease.

  • Rheumatic heart disease.

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused by vascular injury caused by the buildup of plaque in the arteries supplying the heart, called atherosclerosis. This plaque buildup can partially or completely block the arteries, causing reduced blood flow or stopping the blood flow altogether. It also causes the heart muscle supplied by the blocked arteries, devoid of oxygen.

  • Symptoms:

    • Chest pain or heaviness or tightness.

    • Arm or shoulder pain.

    • Shortness of breath.

    • Dizziness.

    • Jaw pain.

    • Nausea and vomiting.

What Is Peripheral Arterial Disease?

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) usually results in restricted blood flow to the legs and feet, which is caused by the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels.

  • Symptoms:

    • Pain in the calves.

    • Numbness and tingling sensation in legs or feet.

    • Injury to the leg heals slowly.

What Is Aortic Aneurysm?

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta, which is the largest artery (blood vessel) of the body. If left untreated, an aortic aneurysm can grow and rupture.

  • Symptoms:

    • Sudden and intense pain in the abdomen or back.

    • Dizziness.

    • Clamminess.

    • Rapid pulse.

    • Dyspnea.

    • Lightheadedness.

What Is Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease that causes the heart muscle to weaken, which makes the heart muscles unable to pump blood to the rest of the body. The different types of cardiomyopathies are:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

  • Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD).

  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy.

  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy.

  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

  • Ischemic cardiomyopathy.

  • Noncompaction or spongiform cardiomyopathy.

  • Pediatric cardiomyopathy.

  • Idiopathic cardiomyopathy.

Symptoms:

  • Fatigue.

  • Shortness of breath on exertion.

  • Chest pain.

  • Dizziness.

  • Syncope.

  • Hypertension (High blood pressure).

  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, and legs.

What Is Hypertensive Heart Disease?

In people with high blood pressure, the heart has to work under increased pressure, which causes heart diseases like heart failure, heart muscle thickening, coronary artery disease, and other heart problems.

  • Symptoms:

    • Angina.

    • A feeling of tightness or pressure over the chest.

    • Dyspnea.

    • Fatigue.

    • Persistent cough.

    • Shoulder, back, neck, and arm pain due to raised blood pressure.

    • Swelling of the ankle and feet.

What Is Heart Failure?

When the heart is unable to pump an adequate quantity of blood to the body, it causes heart failure. The condition can result from other heart conditions or after a heart attack (loss of blood supply to the heart). The types of heart failure are:

  • Left-sided heart failure.

  • Right-sided heart failure.

  • Diastolic heart failure.

  • Systolic heart failure.

Symptoms:

  • Sudden weight gain.

  • Extreme tiredness.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Leg and ankle swelling.

  • Persistent cough.

  • Abdominal swelling.

  • Veins in the neck look protruded.

  • Palpitations.

  • Irregular pulse.

Heart attack is the sudden blockage of blood to the heart whereas, stroke is the interruption of blood flow to the brain, and heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump blood.

What Is Pulmonary Heart Disease?

Pulmonary heart disease or cor pulmonale is a heart condition that results from increased blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension), which results in enlargement and failure of the right side of the heart. Here, the arteries in the lungs get blocked or destroyed.

  • Symptoms:

    • Dyspnea.

    • Syncope.

    • Chest pain.

    • Cyanosis - bluish discoloration of the skin.

    • Palpitations.

    • Tiredness.

What Is Cardiac Arrhythmias?

Any irregularity in the heartbeat is called cardiac arrhythmia. Arrhythmias can be caused due to bradycardia (slow heart rate), tachycardia (fast heart rate), flutter or fibrillation, or premature contraction. It occurs when the electrical impulses to the heart that regulate beating do not function properly.

  • Symptoms:

    • Fast heartbeats (tachycardia).

    • Slow heartbeats (bradycardia).

    • Dizziness.

    • Syncope.

    • Shortness of breath.

    • Palpitations.

    • Sudden weakness.

    • Sweating.

What Are the Heart Infections?

Heart infections occur when bacteria, virus, parasite, or other chemical reaches the heart muscles and causes inflammation or damage to the heart linings. The types of heart infections are:

  • Pericarditis - It is the inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart.

  • Endocarditis - Inflammation of the inner lining or heart valve is called endocarditis.

  • Myocarditis - Inflammation of the heart muscles due to a viral infection or autoimmune response.

Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Fever.

  • Red spots under the fingernails.

  • Purple or red spots on the skin, eyes, and mouth.

  • Joint and muscle pain.

  • Blood in urine.

  • Palpitations.

What Is Valvular Heart Disease?

Diseases of the heart valves occur when one or more valves of the heart do not function properly. The heart has four main valves, namely mitral, tricuspid, aortic, and pulmonary valves, which help the blood flow in the correct direction in the heart. The problems include:

  • Regurgitation - Here the valve does not close properly, as a result, blood flows backward.

  • Stenosis - The valve becomes thick or stiff, causing narrowing of the valve opening.

  • Atresia - In this condition, the valve is not formed.

Symptoms:

  • Heart murmur.

  • Fatigue.

  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath).

  • Heart arrhythmias.

  • Dizziness.

  • Ankle and feet swelling.

What Is Congenital Heart Disease?

Heart abnormalities present at birth are called congenital heart diseases. It can cause defects in either the heart walls, heart valves, or blood vessels. The most common congenital heart diseases are:

  • Ventricular septal defect (hole in the lower chambers of the heart).

  • Atrial septal defect (hole in the upper chambers of the heart).

  • Tetralogy of Fallot (a combination of four heart defects that affect the normal blood flow from the heart).

  • Single ventricle defects (defect in one of the two ventricles of the heart).

  • Pulmonary valve stenosis (narrowing of the pulmonary valve).

  • Patent ductus arteriosus (persistent opening in the pulmonary artery and aorta).

  • Aortic valve stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve).

Symptoms:

  • Bluish or grayish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis).

  • Rapid and difficulty breathing.

  • Poor weight gain.

  • Swelling in legs, abdomen, and surrounding the eyes.

What Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease is caused when rheumatic fever results in the thickening or stenosis of one or more heart valves.

  • Symptoms:

    • Heart murmur.

    • Chest pain.

    • Breathlessness.

    • Tiredness.

What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

  • Age: The risk of damage and narrowing of the arteries, along with weakening and thickening of heart muscles increases with growing age.

  • Family History: Present of heart disease in a family, increases the risk of acquiring one, such as coronary heart disease. The risk is more if a parent has acquired the disease at a very young age.

  • Sex: Men are more commonly affected as compared to women, as they develop heart disease after menopause.

  • Unhealthy Diet: High cholesterol, sugar, fat, and salt in the diet are usually linked with heart diseases.

  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke can damage the arteries of the heart. Also, smokers are more likely to have heart attacks than those who do not smoke.

  • Diabetes: Diabetes caused by high blood sugar and obesity can in turn increase the risk of developing heart disease.

  • High Blood Pressure: The arteries become thick and hard due to high blood pressure thus, causing an interruption in blow flow to the heart and other body parts.

  • Lack of Exercise: A sedentary lifestyle or being inactive causes heart disease and some risk factors as well.

  • Obesity: Excess body weight or obesity causes worsening of other heart conditions and risk factors.

Conclusion

Recognizing the symptoms of heart problems, like chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and irregular heartbeats, is very important, especially in the elderly population and people with comorbid conditions. If any worrisome symptoms are encountered or if one has a history of heart disease, seeking immediate medical attention is essential. Engaging in regular medical check-ups, adopting a healthy lifestyle, and effectively managing risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking can aid in the prevention and management of heart problems.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Are Some Common Heart Problems?

Some common heart problems and heart diseases are -
- Coronary Artery Disease - Blood vessels of the heart are damaged.
- Heart Attack - Blockage in the blood flow to the heart.
- Arrhythmia - Irregular heart rhythm and heart rate.
- Stroke - Blocked blood supply and damage to the brain.

2.

What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Problems?

Here are some warning signs of heart problems -
- Increased heart rate and palpitations (strong irregular heartbeat that causes severe distress).
- Irregular heartbeat.
- Chest discomfort.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Frequent chest pains and neck and jaw pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- Edema or ankle swelling.

3.

What Can Be Mistaken for Heart Problems?

- Vaping-induced lung injury.
- Heartburn.
- Lung diseases.
- Muscle strain.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease.
 - Generalized anxiety disorder.
- Panic disorder.
- Chest injury.
These are some of the conditions which can be mistaken for heart diseases.

4.

How Can I Check My Heart at Home?

Various parameters at home can monitor heart health -
- Measuring Heart Rate -  In healthy conditions, the heart rate should range from 72 to 80 beats per minute.
- Measuring Blood Pressure - Blood pressure is around  120/80 millimeters of mercury in healthy conditions. 
- Stair Test - If a person takes one-and-a-half minutes to ascend four flights of stairs, heart health may be compromised and need immediate attention.
- Shortness of Breath on any aerobic exercise may indicate compromised heart health. Look for these signs and symptoms, which may indicate compromised heart health.

5.

What Is the Most Serious Heart Condition?

The most serious heart condition is a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, which means a blockage in the blood supply to the heart. This occurs mostly due to blood clots or fatty depositions of triglycerides in the blood vessels supplying the heart. Due to this, the heart is devoid of blood and oxygen supply. This can cause severe chest pain and discomfort, and shortness of breath, leading to death.

6.

What Does a Blocked Artery Feel Like?

Signs and symptoms of the blocked artery (myocardial infarction or heart attack) include crushing chest pain or tightness, extreme pressure, shoulder or arm pain, difficulty in breathing, and perspiration (sweating). Women may experience slightly different symptoms, such as jaw pain radiating to neck pain, upper back pain, constant vomiting, nausea, and extreme tiredness and fatigue. Some heart attacks may be asymptomatic and may not cause noticeable signs or symptoms.

7.

Can Blood Test Detect Heart Problems?

Yes, blood tests can detect heart diseases and even indicate the severity of heart diseases.
- High cholesterol levels - High HDL and LDL levels (high or low-density lipoproteins) increase the risk of heart problems.
- High CRP levels (C-reactive protein is a protein in the liver that is released in response to infection, inflammation, or any traumatic injury).
- High levels of lipoprotein may also indicate heart disease.
- High levels of ceramides - Body cells release ceramides that play a role in the growth, function, and ultimately death of many types of tissue. These levels may rise in case of damaged heart tissues.
- High levels of brain natriuretic peptide (BNP)- High levels of BNP are released into the bloodstream when the heart is damaged. BNP is released as a response to try to ease the strain on the heart. 
- Increased troponin T levels - In cases where there are no symptoms of a compromised heart, increased troponin T may indicate underlying heart conditions.

8.

Can an ECG Detect a Blocked Artery?

ECG can be used to detect blocked arteries, as the test can detect irregularities in heart rhythm and impaired blood flow to the heart. However, ECG may appear normal if the heart's electrical activity is not affected due to minor blocks or blocked arteries further away from the heart. However, ECG may appear normal if the heart's electrical activity is not affected due to minor blocks or blocked arteries further away from the heart.

9.

What Will a Cardiologist Do in the First Consultation?

A cardiologist will
- Make a note of the patient's health history and family history. 
- Note down the signs and symptoms.
- Check the vitals (heart rate, pulse rate, blood pressure, and temperature).
- May ask one to get blood and urine samples checked.
- May prescribe further investigations. 
- Prescribe medications if needed. 
- Provide precautionary measures to prevent heart diseases.

10.

Does Heart Failure Make One Feel Cold?

Congestive heart failure is often associated with feeling cold. It is one of the classical signs of heart disease. This is because of reduced cardiac output (the heart becomes less able to pump blood effectively), and the blood cannot reach different body parts, especially the extremities like hands and legs. Due to this, the person starts feeling cold and clammy on their palms and feet. Most people also believe a person who is more prone to feeling cold at all times may be at a higher risk of heart disease.

11.

Can a Chest X-ray Show Heart Blockage?

A chest x-ray captures images of the bones, organs, and structures inside the chest, including the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. A chest x-ray can indicate signs of heart failure and blockage. However, different investigations like stress tests, cardiac pet scans, and coronary angiograms are required to confirm the diagnosis of heart blockages.

12.

How Long Can One Live With Blocked Arteries?

The lifespan of an individual living with blocked arteries is unpredictable. It depends on the percentage of blockage and the severity of other underlying factors like the presence of diseases like diabetes and other environmental and dietary factors like lack of exercise and high cholesterol levels. A person may be able to live longer if the right precautionary measures are taken.

13.

Where Is Heart Pain Felt in Women?

Women often experience slightly different symptoms other than the usual ones, like chest pain and arm pain. They also experience shortness of breath, nausea, neck and back pain, or jaw pain. Chest pain is mostly due to bacterial infections, viral infections, and other diseases, or simply acute anxiety and discomfort in the upper left chest area due to abdominal pressure or gas.
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Dr. Sapkal Ganeshrao Patilba
Dr. Sapkal Ganeshrao Patilba

Cardiology

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