How Your Heart Works
And How Problems Develop
The atria and ventricles work together, alternately contracting and relaxing to pump blood through your heart. The electrical system of your heart is the power source that makes this possible. Your heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway through your heart. There are many signs of heart disease that become more common as we age. Here are some that are the most common.
Chest pain or discomfort that occurs when your heart muscle does not get enough blood. Angina may feel like pressure or a squeezing pain in your chest. The pain may also occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. It may also feel like indigestion. Not all chest pain or discomfort is angina. Chest pain or discomfort can be caused by a heart attack, lung problems (such as an infection or a blood clot), heartburn, or a panic attack. However, all chest pain should be checked by a doctor.
is a problem with the speed or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be serious or even life threatening. When the heart rate is too slow, too fast, or irregular, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body. Lack of blood flow can damage the brain, heart, and other organs. For this reason, always discuss these symptoms with your doctor.
Arteriosclerosis is a general term for the thickening and hardening of arteries that occurs when plaque accumulates on the lining of the arteries. This plaque may partially or totally block the blood's flow through an artery. If this happens, a heart attack or stroke may result. Atherosclerosis is a slow, progressive disease that may start in childhood. In some people the disease progresses in their thirties. In others it doesn't become a threat until they are in their fifties or sixties. Risk factors that are believed to contribute to athlerosclerosis are elevated cholesterol, hypertension and cigarette smoking. Athlerosclerosis may be treated with medication or with a surgical proecdure. Individual options will vary and need to be discussed with your cardiologist.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women. It occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed. The arteries harden and narrow due to buildup of plaque on their inner walls. As the plaque increases in size, the insides of the coronary arteries get narrower and less blood can flow through them. Eventually, blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced. And because blood carries much-needed oxygen, reduced or cutoff blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart muscle can result in:
There are two types of cholesterol. It’s important to understand their differences, and to know the levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol in your blood. Too much of one type — or not enough of another — can put you at risk for coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. High cholesterol can be lowered through diet, exercise and medication. It is important to create the right balance of good and bad cholesterol in your blood supply to prevent it from creating plaque that will gradually build up on the arteries' walls, leading to various kinds of heart disease.
A heart attack happens when a blood clot develops at the site of plaque in a coronary artery and suddenly cuts off most or all blood supply to that part of the heart muscle. Cells in the heart muscle begin to die if they do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. This can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle.
The heart’s lessening ability to pump blood effectively through the rest of the body. About five million people in the United States have heart failure, and each year another 550,000 people are diagnosed for the first time. It contributes to or causes about 300,000 deaths each year.
Peripheral Arterial Disease of the arteries (PAD)
PAD refers to clogged arteries in the lower legs, resulting in poor circulation that can lead to heart disease, aortic aneurysms and stroke, as well as diabetes, hypertension and other conditions. It is most common in men and women over the age of 50. Over the age of 65 it affects as much as 20 percent of the population. Peripheral Arterial Disease can also be an indicator of diabetes, hypertension and other conditions.
A stroke is the rapid loss of brain function resulting from a reduction of blood supply to the brain. This can be due to hemorrhage or a blockage of blood supply. Stroke is the leading cause of various forms of paralysis as well as the inability to understand or formulate speech. Stroke symptoms include: Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body); Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech; Trouble seeing in one or both eyes; Trouble walking, dizziness, or even a severe headache. In the event of stroke, time is crucial in minimizing loss of brain function.
Valvular Heart Disease
Valvular heart disease is any disease process involving one or more of the heart's four valves, the most commonly known of which is the aorta. As blood is pumped through the heart's chambers, the valves open and close to let blood flow in only one direction. When working properly, the heart's valves open and close properly. Abnormalities can occur at birth, and may also develop later due to infection, rheumatic fever, changes in valve structure due to age. Medication can be effective in treating valvular heart disease, as can surgery.
Women's Heart Disease
Most women are not aware that heart disease is the number one cause of death of women in America. While one woman in 30 may die of breast cancer, one in 3 will die of heart disease. Risk of heart disease in women increases after age 40. Heart disease can be managed but not cured, so prevention and early detection are the best approaches. Ask your cardiologist how you can determine your risk factors, and what lifestyle changes you can make to keep your heart health.