What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease, also referred to as cardiopathy, is a collection of conditions involving the heart. The heart is made up of smooth muscles, arteries and valves which are all responsible for pumping blood and sending them to different parts of the body. Any abnormality that develops in the muscles, arteries and valves of the heart often lead to the development of heart diseases.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women. In America alone, there are about 15 million people with some forms of heart disease. Men, 40 years and above, are more prone to develop heart disease than women their age.
Major risk factors for heart disease development include hypertension, high blood cholesterol level, diabetes, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, gender, heredity and age.
Types of Heart Disease
There are several types of heart diseases. Here are some of them and their major causes:
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a very common cause of cardiovascular disease. It is often caused by an obstruction in the artery that supplies blood to the muscles of the heart. It is usually a result of atherosclerosis or the formation of fatty deposits and plaques in the walls of the artery which leads to its narrowing. The narrowing of the artery often limits the flow, or at times, obstructs the flow of blood to the heart, thus leading to symptoms of pain and shortness of breath. Some cases can lead to myocardial infarction or heart attack if not managed early. High blood pressure, diabetes, high levels of blood cholesterol, obesity and smoking are some of the risk factors for the development of coronary artery disease.
Cardiomyopathy is a condition which affects the muscles of the heart. The heart muscles of affected individuals may become abnormally thicker, larger and more rigid, thus causing the heart to pump blood inefficiently to different vital organs. Causes include genetic predisposition, hypertension, use of cocaine and alcohol, and certain infections like HIV and Chagas disease.
Valvular Heart Disease
Heart valves are responsible for letting blood flow efficiently in one direction without leakage or backflow. Valvular heart disease occurs when one or more of these valves develop some problems such as hardening or narrowing and inability to close tightly when they should. These often make the heart work harder. Causes include congenital problems occurring before birth and some acquired diseases and infections, like endocarditis and rheumatic fever. It may manifest with several symptoms like palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest discomfort and edema, which is the swelling of the feet and hands.
Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure develops when the heart weakens and fails to pump blood to perform its proper functioning. Causes include alcohol abuse, hypertension and infections, among many others. Symptoms include inability to sleep in a flat position, shortness of breath, fatigue and edema.
Measures to prevent the development of heart disease include smoking cessation, being active, having a regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining an ideal weight. Through these lifestyle modifications the risk for the development of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol level and diabetes, which are three of the major factors leading to heart disease, are greatly lessened.
MedlinePlus: Heart Diseases
MedicineNet.com: Congestive Heart Failure
MedlinePlus: Coronary Artery Disease