While the heart is an amazing organ that works dependably for us throughout our lives, a number of things can go wrong with it. Common heart problems include:
Your Heart is not Able to Get Enough Blood
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What is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries? Dr. Gregory J. Dehmer explains.
- Heart attack – Like the other muscles in your body, the muscle of your heart requires oxygen and nutrients to remain strong and healthy and to function as it should. When blood flow through the vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscles is cut off, either by a build-up of plaque or a blood clot, a “heart attack” occurs. Without oxygen, the heart muscle can be damaged or die. If the muscle is damaged, scar tissue may result, interfering with your heart’s ability to pump blood to the body. Read more about heart attack
- Chest pain, also called angina (an-JI-na) – A feeling of pain or more often pressure that may be felt in the chest, arm, back, jaw or neck if the heart is not receiving enough oxygen because vessels carrying blood to the heart muscle are partially blocked due to a build-up of plaque (fatty deposits in between the layers of the wall of the artery) in the artery walls. Angina may cause other symptoms as well, including feelings of indigestion, nausea, cold sweats and anxiety. Often angina is felt during exercise or other vigorous activities, when the heart muscles require more oxygen. Any chest pain you experience should be checked by a doctor.
- Coronary artery disease - Coronary artery disease occurs when the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle become narrowed and hardened due to the build-up of plaque. When blood vessels grow narrow and less elastic (a process called atherosclerosis; pronounced ATH-row-SKLEE-ro-sis) due to plaque build-up, blood flow is restricted and your heart is not able to get enough blood and oxygen. When this happens, you may feel chest pain (angina) or have a heart attack.
Your Heart is not Able to Pump as Well as it Should
- Heart failure – Heart failure occurs when your heart cannot supply enough blood to your body. Its inability to pump the normal amount of blood out may cause blood to “back up” in the lungs and vessels that carry blood into your heart – causing them to become congested. As it becomes less efficient as a pump, the heart grows larger so it can hold more blood – and it begins to wear out. To help compensate for the heart’s inability to circulate the blood as it should, other tissues begin to hold onto fluid, increasingly becoming congested. The lungs can fill with fluid, the legs and abdomen can swell and get puffy, and the liver can enlarge and not work efficiently. That’s why heart failure is often referred to as “congestive” heart failure.
- High blood pressure - Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inside walls of your arteries. High blood pressure (hypertension – HI-per-TEN-shun) causes your heart to have to pump with greater than normal force to push blood through your blood vessels. Hypertension is when the blood pressure is higher than 140/90. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. (The top number (systolic) shows the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number (diastolic) shows the pressure when your heart rests.) Unfortunately, high blood pressure usually has no symptoms but can greatly increase a person’s risk of other events such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
- Valve disease – Heart valves are structures in the heart that keep blood flowing in one direction and prevents it from backing up. If one or more of your valves fails to open or close as it should, the heart cannot pump blood as effectively as it needs. Valve problems can be the result of age, a congenital (birth) defect or an aquired disease, such as rheumatic fever.
- Cardiomyopathy (CAR-di-O-my-OP-ath-e) A weakened heart muscle is referred to as a cardiomyopathy, which occurs when the heart’s muscle wall stretches or thickens and as a result fails to efficiently function as a pump. Cardiomyopathies can be the result of coronary artery disease but can also be caused by untreated hypertension, viral infections, drinking too much alcohol, certain other toxin including certain chemotherapy agents, and other diseases that may deposit abnormal proteins or iron in the heart muscle. The cause may be unknown or it may be inherited from your family.
Your Heart May not Beat and Keep Rhythm as it Should
Irregular heart beat – and a heart beat that is too fast or too slow – may occur if the heart’s electrical system fails to function properly. An irregular beat can interfere with the heart’s ability to pump blood to the body with normal strength.
The Blood Vessels in Other Parts of Your Body May Narrow
Aches, pains, cramps, numbness or muscle fatigue in the arms and legs during exercise may indicate that blood vessels in other parts of your body have become narrowed due to plaque build-up. (This condition is called peripheral artery disease, or PAD.) Although the aches and pains of PAD occur far from the heart, they may indicate that blood vessels throughout your body, including the heart, are narrowing and restricting blood flow. PAD in the carotid arteries that feed the brain is a common cause of strokes.
Now is the time to speak with your doctor or cardiologist about cardiovascular disease. SecondsCount has developed a list a questions for you to print and take with you. Please, make an appointment, and find these important questions to print here.