• Heart & Vascular Disease

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    While the heart is an amazing organ that works dependably for us throughout our lives, a number of things can go wrong with it, as well as with the network of blood vessels that supply oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to organs and tissues throughout your body. Read below for descriptions of common heart and vascular problems, including the following:

    Your Heart Is Not Able to Get Enough Blood

    Your Heart Is Not Able to Pump as Well as It Should

    Your Heart May Not Beat and Keep Rhythm as It Should

    Your Blood Vessels May Narrow, Have Blockages, or Not Work Properly


    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.
    • Angina/chest pain – A feeling of pain, pressure, or other discomfort that may be felt in the chest, arm, back, jaw, or neck if the heart is not receiving enough oxygen because arteries that carry blood to the heart 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 symptoms may also include indigestion, nausea, cold sweats, and anxiety. Angina can be stable or unstable. Stable angina is less severe and often occurs during exercise or other vigorous activities, when the heart muscles require more oxygen. Unstable angina, or a heart attack, does not go away when you rest and requires immediate medical attention. Any chest pain you experience should be checked by a doctor. Learn more about angina.
    • 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) 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. Learn more about coronary artery disease.

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    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) 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. Learn more about high blood pressure.
    • 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 acquired disease, such as rheumatic fever. Learn more about heart valve problems.
    • Cardiomyopathy – 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 toxins, 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.
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    Your Heart May not Beat and Keep Rhythm as it Should 

    Irregular heartbeat – and a heartbeat 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.

    For more on the heart’s natural electrical system, see Your Heart.

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    Your Blood Vessels May Narrow, Have Blockages, or Not Work Properly

    Two types of blood vessels transport blood throughout the human body. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood rich in oxygen from the heart to other parts of the body. Veins are blood vessels that carry the oxygen depleted blood back to the heart, where it is pumped to the lungs for a fresh supply of oxygen.


    The arteries carry oxygenated blood throughout the body. Later, after the oxygen has been delivered, the veins return the blood back to the heart, where it is pumped to the lungs to pick up more oxygen.

     Artery Problems

    The same disease process that clogs arteries of the heart can also block blood flow in arteries supplying the brain, arms, legs, and kidneys. If you have been diagnosed with blockages in one part of your body, you are at greater risk for narrowing in arteries elsewhere in your body.

    • Carotid artery disease – Blockages in the carotid arteries, which supply your brain with oxygen, can lead to one form of stroke. Some strokes are caused by blood vessels that rupture and bleed into the brain. These are called hemorrhagic strokes. The two types of stroke require different treatments. Read more about carotid artery disease.
    • Peripheral artery disease (PAD) and renal artery stenosis (RAS) – Aches, pains, cramps, numbness or muscle fatigue in the arms and legs during exercise may indicate that blood vessels supplying these body parts 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 in the heart, are narrowing and restricting blood flow. Peripheral artery disease in the arteries leading to the kidneys is referred to as renal artery stenosis, or RAS. RAS can cause high blood pressure or kidney failure.

    Vein Problems

    Leg vein problems (venous disease) – Veins carry blood from the arms, legs, and head back to the heart. If the veins in your legs are weakened or blocked, the blood may collect in your legs instead, causing discomfort and other problems such as blood clots and varicose veins. Blood clots can be a very serious problem, especially if one breaks loose and travels to the lung, blocking the lung artery, which is called pulmonary embolism (PE). PE can be fatal. Furthermore, it can damage your lungs and increase your risk of heart failure if you do not receive immediate medical attention.

    Click here to learn more about leg vein problems.


    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.

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  • More about Heart & Vascular Disease


    Adult Congenital Heart Disease

    You may be one of the growing number of adults who was born with a heart defect. Today, because of improvements in early diagnosis during pregnancy, treatment in the early neonatal period, surgical techniques, and pre- and post-operative treatments, there are more adults than infants with congenital heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, more than 1,000,000 adults in the United States have a heart defect.

    Angina/Chest Pain

    Chest pain, arm tingling, shortness of breath, being more tired and fatigued with usual activities - all may be signs that blood flow to your heart is becoming restricted or blocked. When you feel chest pain or discomfort, which your doctor may call angina or angina pectoris, it may be because the heart muscle is not receiving sufficient blood flow due to the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries that supply the heart with oxygen-rich blood.

    Carotid Artery Disease

    All organs and tissues in your body need a steady stream of oxygenated blood to function. If blood flow to your heart is disrupted, you may have a heart attack. Similarly, if your brain does not receive the proper amount of blood, you may have a stroke. Many strokes are the result of carotid artery disease, a narrowing and thickening, or "hardening," of the arteries that carry blood to the brain.

    Children and Heart Disease

    If your child is born with a heart defect or acquires a heart problem during childhood, you will no doubt have many questions. As you seek answers, on this website, from your doctor, and from other sources, keep in mind that new therapies and technologies sized especially for children continue to improve the outcomes for children born with a congenital heart defect or who acquire a heart condition as they are growing up. In fact, some 90 percent of children born with a heart defect survive to adulthood.

    Congenital Heart Disease

    Congenital heart disease refers to problems of the heart and major arteries that are present at birth. While heart defect is the most common birth defect, the chance of survival is high. Advances in interventional cardiology have played an important role in increased survival rates.

    Coronary Artery Disease

    Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is a build-up of fat and cholesterol in the arteries that supply blood to your heart. These deposits, which are called plaques, grow slowly over decades and can sometimes become hardened with fibrous tissue and calcium. As the plaques grow, in a disease process called atherosclerosis, portions of the artery become clogged and narrowed. If an artery is severely obstructed, it reduces blood flow to the heart and can cause chest pain or even a heart attack.

    Heart Valve Problems

    In a normally functioning heart, four valves regulate blood flow so that blood travels through the heart in one direction and at the right rate. When something goes wrong with one of these valves, the heart and rest of the body do not get proper amounts of oxygen and nutrients, and pressure can build up within the heart. A person with a faulty heart valve may experience fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms - or no symptoms at all.

    Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

    Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease in which the muscle of the lower left chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) becomes abnormally thick and enlarged. HCM is a significant cause of both heart failure and sudden death. It is the most common cause of sudden cardiac death among athletes that are believed to be healthy.

    Preeclampsia & Your Heart: An Early Warning Sign for Cardiovascular Disease

    You may think of preeclampsia—high blood pressure during or immediately following pregnancy—as a condition specific to pregnancy. However, research is finding that preeclampsia appears to be a significant warning sign for heart disease after pregnancy. In fact, the American Heart Association’s guidelines on cardiovascular disease in women consider preeclampsia as a risk factor for heart disease as strong as a failed stress test—a test commonly used to identify existing heart disease.


    Every second counts if you or someone you love is having a stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Just a few hours can make the difference between recovery or learning to walk and talk all over again—or worse still—death. This section can help you identify the symptoms and causes of stroke and learn what is involved in preventing, diagnosing, and treating strokes.

    The Faces of Cardiovascular Disease in America

    In one way or another, cardiovascular disease affects all Americans. It may affect you, a family member, or a friend. But if you think you are not at risk for heart disease because you don’t fit the stereotype of an older man experiencing a massive heart attack, like we often see portrayed on TV, then you may have a false sense of security.

    What is a Heart Attack?

    Heart attacks are caused by heart disease, which is the number one cause of death among both men and women in the United States. While much work needs to be done to prevent heart disease and heart attacks from happening in the first place, the good news is that heart attack treatment has advanced tremendously in the past 60 years.

    Women and Cardiovascular Disease

    Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women, but as a woman, even if you know that, you’re probably too busy most days to think about it. But you should think about it, because what you do each day in part determines your risk for developing cardiovascular disease and suffering its life-threatening consequences. By thinking about it now, you can learn ways to reduce your risks, recognize the warning signs of a heart attack, and advocate to get the help you need.

    xLeg and Kidney Blockages (Peripheral Artery Disease)

    Cardiovascular disease is more than a disease of the heart. It can affect any part of your body that relies on nutrient-rich and oxygenated blood to function—that includes your legs, arms, feet, and kidneys. When your arteries leading to these parts of your body are narrowed or blocked by the buildup of fatty deposits (plaque), it can restrict or stop the flow of blood to organs and tissues.