Heart disease is a broad term that describes a number of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. Some of the most common include cardiovascular disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmia), congenital heart defects, infections of the heart and cardiomyopathy. Heart disease is responsible for 40% of all deaths worldwide, making it the number one killer for both men and women. There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of developing heart disease. Some of these factors are beyond a person’s control, while others are more related to lifestyle and bad habits.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the most common types of heart disease that is associated with controllable risk factors. It is a disease in which blood vessels are obstructed or narrowed; it can lead to heart attack and stroke. Symptoms include chest pain or angina, shortness of breath, coldness or numbness in the extremities. In many cases it is not diagnosed until chest pain, heart failure or heart attack occurs. It is important to be aware of the signs of this disease and see a doctor if any of these symptoms arise. Regular checkups may also be beneficial in detecting cardiovascular disease in the early stages. Atherosclerosis is the most common form of cardiovascular disease. Smoking, lack of exercise, poor nutrition and being overweight are all risk factors that can be addressed with lifestyle changes.
Arrhythmias are abnormal heartbeats. Symptoms can include a fluttering in the chest, a racing or very slow heartbeat, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting and shortness of breath. Risk factors include excessive use of alcohol or caffeine, smoking, drug use and stress. Other causes are coronary artery disease, congenital heart defects, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Congenital heart defects are a form of heart disease that people are born with. Generally, this type of disease becomes evident within the first few hours, days or weeks of life. The symptoms could include a pale gray or blue skin tone, swelling around the eyes and in the abdomen and legs, shortness of breath during feedings and slow weight gain. Other symptoms of non-life threatening congenital heart defects may be a shortness of breath or tiring easily during exercise, swelling of the hands and feet, and fluid in the heart and lungs. Researchers are not sure what causes congenital heart defects, but medical conditions, medication and genetics may be factors.
Infections of the heart can affect the outer lining, the heart muscle or the inner membrane. An infection can cause fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, weakness, arrhythmias, coughing, swelling and spots or rashes on the skin. Bacteria, viruses and parasites cause heart infections. There is a link between infections of the heart and poor oral health.
A thickening or hardening of the heart muscle is called cardiomyopathy. Breathlessness during rest and exercise, swelling of the legs and feet, abdominal bloating, fatigue, irregular heartbeats, dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting are symptoms of this type of heart disease. Studies have yet to determine the cause of cardiomyopathy.
Treating diseases of the heart is easier with early detection. It is important to have routine physical examinations, inform your doctor of any family history of heart disease, and see your doctor as soon as you begin experiencing any symptoms.