Heart Disease - Experience

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Heart (cardiovascular) disease definition and facts

  • Heart disease refers to various types of conditions that can affect heart function. These types include:
    • Coronary artery (atherosclerotic) heart disease that affects the arteries to the heart
    • Valvular heart disease that affects how the valves function to regulate blood flow in and out of the heart
    • Cardiomyopathy that affects how the heart muscle squeezes
    • Heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias) that affect the electrical conduction
    • Heart infections where the heart has structural problems that develop before birth
  • Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the US.
  • Coronary arteries supply blood to the heart muscle and coronary artery disease occurs when there is a buildup of cholesterol plaque inside the artery walls. Over time, this buildup of plaque may partially block the artery and decrease blood flow through it.
  • A heart attack occurs when a plaque ruptures and forms a clot in the artery causing a complete blockage. That part of the heart muscle that is denied blood supply starts to die.
  • Classic signs and symptoms of coronary heart disease may include:
    • Chest pain (angina) - This pain may radiate or move to the arm, neck or back.
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sweating
    • Nausea
    • Irregular heartbeat
  • Not all people with coronary artery disease have chest pain as a symptom. Some may have signs and symptoms of indigestion, or exercise intolerance where they cannot perform activities that they normally once could.
  • Coronary heart disease is initially diagnosed by patient history and physical examination. EKG blood tests, and tests to image the arteries and heart muscle confirm the diagnosis.
  • Treatment for coronary heart disease depends upon its severity. Many times lifestyle changes such as eating a heart healthy diet, exercising regularly, stopping smoking and controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes may limit the artery narrowing.
  • In some people, surgery or other procedures might be needed.
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