14 Sep The Four Types of Heart Disease to Ask Your Doctor About
Coronary artery disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of ALL deaths in the United States.
CAD affects the vessels that flow into and out of the heart. When plaques build up in arteries, the muscle has to work harder to pump blood. Plaques are deposits of cholesterol (a fat-like compound) and other substances. CAD occurs when this ‘gunk’ can become large enough to restrict or block blood flow.
How does CAD lead to a heart attack? There are many tiny blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the cardiac muscle. These provide the ‘fuel’ for the muscle to contract. If plaque blocks blood flow, the muscle weakens or may stop completely (a heart attack). Many people do not know they have the disease until they have a heart attack.
How do I treat CAD?
- Lifestyle changes include a healthy diet, regular exercise, and not smoking
- Your doctor can prescribe medications that lower cholesterol in the blood
- For severe CAD, you may need surgery to open your arteries
Heart valve disease
Your heart and arteries have valves that control blood flow. If a valve ‘hardens’ or becomes narrow, it cannot close completely. Blood may flow in the wrong direction or back up into the heart. It then has to work harder to keep your circulation moving. As a result, the muscle grows bigger and the heart chambers that hold blood become smaller.
At first, you may not have any symptoms. In advanced disease, you may experience mild to severe chest pain, dizziness, or fluid filling in your legs. If this happens, you should call your doctor immediately.
- Valves weaken as you get older
- Hypertension (high blood pressure) damages valves
- Plaque builds up in arteries (CAD) increases the strain on valves.
- Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the valves
Cardiomyopathy means damage to the muscles that make the heart contract (squeeze). When this happens, muscle is replaced with scar tissue. The heart thickens and becomes weaker. The remaining muscle has to work hard to pump blood. This may lead to valve disease, arrhythmias (see below), or heart failure.
Cardiomyopathy may be genetic, meaning you were born with the disease. If someone in your close family has cardiomyopathy, you and your children are more likely to have it. Certain medications and illnesses also damage the muscle. Some illnesses include hypertension, diabetes, or a viral infection.
Your doctor can tell you if you have cardiomyopathy. You may not know until something serious occurs, like a heart attack.
- Implant devices to make your cardiac muscles contract
Arrhythmias (Irregular rhythm)
Electric impulses cause your heart to contract. Arrhythmias occur when these impulses do not follow a normal rhythm. It beats too fast, too slow, or at irregular intervals. Symptoms may be mild, like a fluttery-feeling in the chest. If combined with another problem like cardiomyopathy or valve disease, arrhythmias are life-threatening.
Severe symptoms include chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness or fainting. It may feel like your heart is ‘racing.’ If these occur, you should see a doctor immediately.
Sometimes, they are normal and don’t need treatment. But you should do everything you can to lower your risk for severe arrhythmias. This includes
* Follow lifestyle changes to prevent CAD and valve diseases
* If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor what steps you should take to lower it
* Exercise regularly
Preventing ALL types of heart disease
Did you notice that these diseases all seem related? That is because one may lead to another, or they may BOTH be caused by the same problem (like genetics, poor diet, or smoking). The good news: lowering your risk for one illness also lowers your risk for the others! So talk to your doctor today about ways to maintain a healthy heart.