Everything You Need to Know About Heart Disease

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It can’t be cured or reversed, but medications, procedures, and lifestyle changes can relieve many symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 deaths resulted from heart disease in 2021 in the United States. That’s about 695,000people.

Who gets heart disease?
Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. It’s the leading cause of death for several populations, including white people, Hispanic people, and Black people. Almost half of people in the United States are at risk of heart disease, and the numbers are rising.

While it can be deadly, it’s also preventable in most people. By adopting certain lifestyle habits early, you can potentially live longer with a healthier heart.

What are the different types of heart disease?
Heart disease encompasses a wide range of cardiovascular problems. Several diseases and conditions fall under the umbrella of heart disease.

Types of heart disease include:
arrhythmia
atherosclerosis
cardiomyopathy
congenital heart defects
coronary artery disease (CAD)
heart infections
The term “cardiovascular disease” may also refer to heart conditions that specifically affect the blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?
Different types of heart disease can cause a variety of symptoms.

Arrhythmia
Arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. The symptoms you experience may depend on the type of arrhythmia you have, such as a heart rate that’s too fast or too slow.

Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis reduces blood supply to your extremities. In addition to chest pain and shortness of breath, symptoms of atherosclerosis include fatigue and muscle weakness in the legs from poor circulation.

Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects are heart problems that develop when a fetus is growing. Some heart defects are never diagnosed. Others may be detected when they cause symptoms.

Coronary artery disease (CAD)
CAD is plaque buildup in the arteries that move oxygen-rich blood through the heart and lungs.
Cardiomyopathy
Cardiomyopathy is a disease that causes the heart muscles to grow larger and turn rigid, thick, or weak.

Heart infections
Heart infections include the conditions endocarditis and myocarditis.

Read more about the signs and symptoms of heart disease.
What are the symptoms of heart disease in women?
Females often experience different signs and symptoms of heart disease than males, specifically CAD and other cardiovascular diseases.
A 2016  looked at the symptoms most often seen in women who had experienced a heart attack. The top symptoms didn’t include the “classic” heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain and tingling. Instead, researchers reported that women were more likely to experience anxiety, indigestion, and fatigue.

Symptoms of heart disease in females can also be confused with other conditions, such as depression, menopause, and anxiety.

What causes heart disease?
Heart disease is a collection of diseases and conditions that cause cardiovascular problems. Each type of heart disease is caused by something entirely unique to that condition.

Arrhythmia causes
The causes of an abnormal heart rhythm include:
diabetes
CAD
heart defects
high blood pressure (hypertension)
certain medications
Congenital heart defect causes
This heart disease occurs while a baby is still developing in the uterus. Some heart defects may be serious and diagnosed and treated early. Some may also go undiagnosed for many years.

Your heart’s structure can also change as you age. This can create a heart defect that may lead to complications and problems.

Cardiomyopathy causes
There are several types of cardiomyopathy. Each type is the result of a separate condition:
dilated cardiomyopathy (the mos type)
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
restrictive cardiomyopathy
The causes range from other medical conditions or comorbidities or genetics. Not all the causes are fully understood.

Heart infection causes
Bacteria, parasites, and viruses are the most common causes of heart infections. Uncontrolled infections in the body can also harm the heart if they’re not properly treated.

What are some risk factors for heart disease?
There are many risk factors for heart disease. Some are controllable and others aren’t.

According to the CDC, around 47%Trusted Source of people in the United States have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Some of these risk factors include:

high blood pressure
high cholesterol and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol
smoking
obesity
low physical activity
Smoking, for example, is a controllable risk factor. People who smoke double their chance of developing heart disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney .

People with diabetes may also have a higher risk of heart disease because high blood glucose levels increase the chance of:
angina
heart attack
stroke
CAD

If you have diabetes, managing your glucose can limit your chance of developing heart disease. People with both high blood pressure and diabetes have a higher riskTrusted Source of cardiovascular disease.

Risk factors you can’t control
Other risk factors for heart disease include:

family history
ethnicity
sex
age
Although these risk factors aren’t controllable, you may be able to monitor their effects.
A family history of CAD is especially concerning if it involvesTrusted Source:

a male relative under 55 years old
a female relative under 65 years old
Non-Hispanic Black people, non-Hispanic white people, and people of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage have a higher risk than Native Alaskan or Native American people.

Also, males have a greater risk of heart disease than females. According to the CDCTrusted Source, the prevalence of heart disease is higher in men than in women.

How is heart disease diagnosed?
Your doctor may order several types of tests and evaluations to make a heart disease diagnosis. Some of these tests can be performed before you ever have symptoms of heart disease.

Other tests may be used to look for possible causes of symptoms when they develop.

Physical exams and blood tests
The first thing your doctor will do is perform a physical exam. They will take an account of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
Then they will want to know your family and personal medical history. Genetics can play a role in some heart diseases. If you have a close family member with heart disease, share this information with your doctor.

Blood tests are frequently ordered. This is because they can help your doctor see your cholesterol levels and look for signs of inflammation.

Noninvasive tests
A variety of noninvasive tests may be used to diagnose heart disease, such as:
electrocardiogram (EKG)
echocardiogram
stress test
carotid ultrasound
Holter monitor
tilt-table test
CT scan
heart MRI
Invasive tests
If a physical exam, blood tests, and noninvasive tests aren’t conclusive, your doctor may want to look inside your body to determine what’s causing your symptoms. Invasive tests may include:
cardiac catheterization
coronary angiography
electrophysiology

What treatments are available for heart disease?
Treatment for heart disease largely depends on the type of heart disease you have as well as how far it has advanced. For example, if you have a heart infection, your doctor is likely to prescribe an antibiotic.

If you have plaque buildup, your doctor may take a two-pronged approach: prescribe a medication that can help lower your risk of additional plaque buildup and look to help you adopt certain lifestyle strategies.

Treatment for heart disease falls into three main categories:

Lifestyle strategies
Some lifestyle strategies can help protect your heart. These include:

eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH diet
getting regular exercise
quitting smoking
limiting alcohol consumption
Medications

A medication may be necessary to treat certain types of heart disease. Your doctor can prescribe a medication that can either cure or manage your heart disease.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications that slow or stop the risk of complications. The exact drug you’re prescribed depends on the type of heart disease you have. Examples include:

beta-blockers
blood thinners
calcium channel blockers
ACE inhibitors

Surgery or invasive procedures
In some cases of heart disease, surgery or a medical procedure is necessary to treat the condition and prevent worsening symptoms.
For example, if you have arteries that are blocked entirely or almost completely by plaque buildup, your doctor may insert a stent in your artery to return regular blood flow.

The procedure your doctor performs depends on the type of heart disease you have and the extent of damage to your heart.

How can I prevent heart disease?
Some risk factors of heart disease can’t be controlled, like your family history. But it’s still important to lower your chance of developing heart disease by decreasing the risk factors you can control.

Aim for healthy blood pressure and cholesterol numbers
Having healthy blood pressure and cholesterol ranges are some of the first steps you can take for a healthy heart. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

A healthy blood pressure is considered less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, which is often expressed as “120 over 80” or “120/80 mm Hg.”

Systolic is the measurement of pressure while the heart is contracting. Diastolic is the measurement when the heart is resting. Higher numbers indicate that the heart is working too hard to pump blood.

Your ideal cholesterol level depends on your risk factors and heart health history. If you have a high risk of heart disease, have diabetes, or have already had a heart attack, your target levels will be below those of people with low or average risk.

Adopt heart-healthy lifestyle strategies
Practicing the same lifestyle strategies that can help you manage heart disease can also help reduce your chance of developing it.
Doctors recommend 30–60 minutes of exercise on most days for a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes each week. Check with your doctor to make sure you can safely meet these guidelines, especially if you already have a heart condition.

Quitting smoking can help your heart health because nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for oxygenated blood to circulate. This can lead to atherosclerosis.

In addition, managing your stress can help lower your chance for heart disease because chronic stress can contribute to the development of heart problems.

Making these changes all at once might not be possible, and that’s OK. Talk with your doctor about what will have the biggest impact right now. Even small steps toward these goals help keep you at your healthiest.
Learn about ways to reduce the chance of heart disease.

 

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