Overview – What is it?
A heart condition can also be referred to as a cardiovascular disease. The heart is made up of arteries, veins, four valves and four chambers.
The causes of heart conditions include heart defects and other health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
They can be diagnosed through tests such as an electrocardiogram test, cardiac catheterization and stress test, among others.
The treatment for these conditions can be through medication, lifestyle changes and surgery. Most heart conditions can be prevented by living a healthy life style.
Causes – What causes it?
The cause of a heart condition depends on the type of condition you have. Examples of such conditions include:
- Heart failure: This gradual and chronic condition occurs when the heart muscle is unable to pump as much blood as it should for it to supply oxygen and blood in the body.
- Arrhythmia: This occurs when there is a change in the normal sequence of the heart beats. It can be mild or life threatening with symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting and rapid heartbeat, and in extreme cases can lead to collapsing and sudden cardiac arrest.
- Congenital Heart Disease: It occurs when there is a problem with the anatomy or structure of the heart. It can be a defect of the valves, arteries or veins of the heart. These defects can disrupt the normal flow of blood in and out of the heart.
- Coronary Heart Disease: This condition occurs due to the narrowing of the coronary artery. The narrowing may be caused by accumulation of cholesterol or a blood clot in the artery causing poor supply of blood to the muscle. Its symptoms are shortness of breath and chest pain in the heart muscle because of a shortage of blood rich in oxygen.
- Heart Valve Disease: It occurs when one or more valves in the heart malfunction. The valves are responsible for preventing back flow of blood in the heart which means they keep blood flowing in the correct direction.
- Stroke: This condition can occur due to many factors. It can occur when the heart fails to supply blood to brain cells causing them to stop functioning. This condition can lead to numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of your body as well as loss of speech and balance or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
Risk factors for heart conditions include:
- Heart defects: These are complications that one is born with.
- Other health Conditions: Some health conditions such as coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, high blood pressure and diabetes increase the risk of developing heart conditions.
- Some over-the-counter medications: Certain medications such as dietary supplements can increase the risk of developing heart conditions.
- Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine: These can also increase heart condition risk.
- Family history: Having a family member who has or has had heart problems, especially heart attacks and strokes, increases your risk of developing heart conditions as well.
- Smoking: The nicotine present in tobacco shrinks your blood vessels and affects their inner lining, making you more vulnerable to heart attacks.
- Poor diet: Eating foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
- Age: People who are over 55 years of age are at a higher risk of developing heart conditions.
- Obesity: People with normal healthy weight are less likely to have heart diseases compared to people with excess weight.
- Physical inactivity: Lack of exercise is associated with many forms of heart diseases and some of its other risk factors, as well.
- Stress: Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
- Poor hygiene: Not regularly washing your hands and not establishing other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. Poor dental health may also contribute to heart disease.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Symptoms of heart diseases depend on the type of the condition you have. Here is a list of some of the symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Dry cough
- Racing heart beat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swollen feet or ankles
- Chest pain
- Fainting (syncope)
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Some of the tests that can be used in diagnosing heart conditions are:
- Echocardiography: This is an ultrasound examination of the heart, usually performed by a cardiologist, to evaluate the anatomy of the heart valves, the muscles, and its function.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): It is done to record electrical signals which can help in detecting any irregularities in your heart’s rhythm and structure. It can be done while you are resting or while exercising.
- Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan: This test is done to determine whether there are any abnormalities in the heart by checking blood flow, blood valves and vessels with the aid of a dye which is inserted into the heart using a catheter.
- Imaging tests: They are done using computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which help in giving detailed images of the heart and help the doctor to evaluate your heart and notice any abnormalities that may be present.
- Holter monitor: This is a portable device that is used to record a continuous ECG for a day or two which helps in detecting heart rhythm irregularities that may not be detected during a normal ECG exam.
- Stress test: It is a test that involves raising the heart rate through exercise or by using medicine while performing heart tests and imaging to determine how the heart responds.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of a heart conditions depends on which condition you have. The treatments include:
- Medication: Some heart conditions can be treated using medications, for instance, you can be given antibiotics if you have a heart infection.
- Surgery: This is done to correct certain heart complications such as blockage of blood vessels and also in treating heart conditions that cannot be treated using medication. Surgery depends on the type of heart condition and the severity of the condition. For example, in conditions where the heart is severely damaged, heart transplant may be required; this involves replacing a damaged heart with a healthy heart from a donor.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Prevention of heart conditions is based on reducing the risk of getting a heart condition by:
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Controlling other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high
- cholesterol and diabetes
- Exercising at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
- Eating a diet that is low in salt and saturated fat
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Reducing and managing stress