Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. But did you know there are more than 50 types of heart disease? Heart disease is actually an umbrella term that includes a number of conditions affecting the structures or function of the heart, some of which are genetic, and many of which are the result of lifestyle choices.
Types of Cardiovascular Disease:
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs when the arteries supplying blood to the heart narrow or harden, which is known as atherosclerosis. CHD is usually the cause of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Major risk factors include: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, diabetes, advancing age, inherited (genetic) disposition.
Heart Attack – Also called “myocardial infarction,” a heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or cut off, due to the hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries from the build-up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, known together as “plaque.” A blood clot forms around the plaque, blocking blood flow. This results in permanent damage or death of part of the heart muscle. The most common symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Chest pressure or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, arms or shoulder
- Feeling weak, lightheaded, or nauseous
Arrhythmia – “Arrhythmia” means your heartbeat is irregular. It doesn’t necessarily mean your heart is beating too fast or too slow. It just means it’s out of its normal rhythm. When the heart doesn’t beat normally, it can’t pump blood effectively to the lungs, brain, and other organs, causing them to potentially shut down or become damaged. You could have an arrhythmia even if your heart is healthy, as it can be a side effect of medicines that you are taking or a manifestation of an abnormality elsewhere in your body.
Heart failure is a serious condition that commonly develops slowly over time, and is the leading cause of hospitalization in people older than 65. Heart failure is a bit of a misnomer, since it does not actually mean the heart has stopped working; rather, the heart pumps weaker than normal, causing blood to move through the body at a slower rate and increases pressures in the heart. The weakened heart muscle has to work overtime to keep up with the body’s demands, which can leave a person tired. Some of the symptoms of heart failure:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing when lying down
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
- General fatigue and weakness
Congenital Heart Disease is a category of heart disease in which congenital heart defects are present at birth. Defects occur when the fetus is developing and may produce symptoms at birth or during childhood, while others aren’t discovered until a person is an adult. Some causes of congenital heart defects are:
- Chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome
- Maternal viral infection in the first trimester of pregnancy
- Maternal drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy, and certain medications such as Warfarin
Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy) is a progressive disease that causes the heart to be abnormally enlarged, thickened and/or stiffened. Cardiomyopathy limits the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively, and often leads to heart conditions like arrhythmias or heart failure.
While there is a wide range of heart and vascular conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, the good news is that many types of heart disease can be prevented with healthy habits. You can reduce your risk of certain types of heart disease, such as heart attack, coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease by doing the following:
- Eating a low sodium diet
- Eating more fresh fruit and vegetables while limiting foods high in saturated fat
- Exercising at least 3 – 5 times a week for 30 minutes a day
- Stop smoking!
- Controlling your diabetes and high blood pressure
If you suspect you have heart condition, talk with a trained Emory Healthcare doctor, who can recommend or administer screening or diagnostic tests.
About Dr. Danny Eapen, MD
Danny Eapen, MD is an Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Eapen specializes in preventive cardiology and adult heart disease. He pursued a degree in medicine from the University of Miami, Miami FL, and his internship and residency in Internal Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. He also completed his research and general cardiology fellowship at Emory University.