Healthy Tips: Why Heart Disease is Common?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many things that can raise your risk for heart disease. They are called risk factors. Some of them you cannot control, but there are many that you can control. Learning about them can lower your risk of heart disease.

What are the heart disease risk factors that I cannot change?

  • Age. Your risk of heart disease increases as you get older. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older have a greater risk.

  • Gender. Some risk factors may affect heart disease risk differently in women than in men. For example, estrogen provides women some protection against heart disease, but diabetes raises the risk of heart disease more in women than in men.

  • Race or ethnicity. Certain groups have higher risks than others. African Americans are more likely than whites to have heart disease, while Hispanic Americans are less likely to have it. Some Asian groups, such as East Asians, have lower rates, but South Asians have higher rates.

  • Family history. You have a greater risk if you have a close family member who had heart disease at an early age.

Heart Failure

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart is no longer strong enough to pump sufficient blood to the rest of the body. Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in neck

These symptoms are often the result of fluid buildup in your body. As your heart grows weaker, symptoms get worse. You may begin to feel tired and short of breath after limited exertion or while lying flat.

Taking a careful health history and examination are the first steps in determining heart failure. In order to evaluate heart function, imaging tests are done to determine the underlying cause and develop an individualized plan of care to treat and manage your disease. The diagnostic procedures may include: 

  • Echocardiogram
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Stress testing (echocardiogram or nuclear imaging)
  • Cardiac catheterization

Know Your Risks for Heart Failure:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Damage to heart valves
  • History of heart murmur
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Family history of enlarged heart
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Coronary Artery Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. The most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD develops over time due to the buildup of cholesterol-containing deposits or plaques build up narrowing the coronary arteries. This is also known as atherosclerosis. This can eventually weaken the heart muscle, causing heart failure or arrhythmia. CAD often goes undetected until it produces a heart attack.

Know Your Risks for CAD:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Genetic predisposition

Heart Attack

Coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack or myocardial infarction. A heart attack occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle becomes blocked and the heart can’t get oxygen. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute more than 1 million people in the United States have heart attacks. Getting emergency medical care as quickly as possible is key to surviving a heart attack.

These Symptoms May be the First Sign of a Heart Attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
  • For women, in particular, a feeling unusually tired for no reason

What Women Should Look For:

Although men and women share many of the same signs for a heart attack, such as chest pain or discomfort, there are other signs they need to remember. The American Heart Association (AHA) says women often believe some symptoms they are experiencing may be other less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu, or normal aging.

Heart Attack Signs in Women:

  • Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest, lasting more than a few minutes, or going away and coming back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest comfort.
  • Signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
  • As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain

Source: American Heart Association

If you, or someone else is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, don’t ignore the signs. Call 9-1-1 immediately for emergency medical care. You can save your life or someone you love.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a serious condition in which the heart does not pump well enough to meet the body’s demand for oxygen. Heart failure can result from a damaged or weakened left ventricle (known as systolic dysfunction) or a stiff ventricle (known as diastolic dysfunction). 

Conditions that could lead to the development of heart failure include:

  • coronary artery disease 
  • high blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • heart attack 
  • cardiomyopathy 
  • valvular heart disease (i.e., valvular stenosis or valvular regurgitation) 
  • infection in the heart valves (valvular endocarditis) or of the heart muscle (myocarditis) 
  • congenital heart disease 
  • severe lung disease (i.e., pulmonary hypertension) 
  • persistent tachycardia and arrhythmias

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Signs and symptoms of heart failure develop when the vital organs of the body do not receive adequate blood supply. If left untreated, blood starts to back up into the veins leading to the heart. This causes fluid buildup in the lungs and other parts of the body, causing increased shortness of breath with limited exertion or while lying flat.

Other advanced symptoms include:

  • persistent coughing or wheezing  (especially when lying down)
  • fatigue, weakness 
  • feeling of suffocation while sleeping 
  • shortness of breath 
  • increased heart rate
  • fluid buildup (edema), especially in the legs, ankles and feet 
  • sudden weight gain 
  • nausea, abdominal swelling, tenderness or pain

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