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Types of Heart Disease

Types of Heart Disease
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By Steve Nubie

Various forms of heart disease affect 84 million* Americans. People who are 50 and over constitute more than half of that total.

Heart disease continues to be the number one cause of death in the United States. It afflicts men and women equally. Heart disease is also the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030 according to the American Heart Association. In fact, since 1984 more woman have died from heart disease than men for the simple reason that so many of them go undiagnosed. In addition, only 1 in 5 women believe that heart disease is a significant health threat. The fact of the matter is that the risk of heart disease increases with age although genetic and behavioral factors also play a role.

Types of heart disease:

Heart disease is not isolated to conditions leading to a heart attack. There are other cardiovascular conditions that can lead to equally debilitating and lethal outcomes.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is America’s No.1 killer, affecting more than 13 million Americans. It’s the result of plaque buildup in your coronary arteries. This condition is referred to as atherosclerosis. The result is that the arteries lose their elasticity and instead become rigid and narrow. This restricts blood flow to the heart which starves the heart of oxygen and its ability to pump properly. This narrowing could also cause any blood clots in your bloodstream to block the artery leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Enlarged Heart (Cardiomegaly)

An enlarged heart is literally a heart that is larger than its normal size. It can be caused by high blood pressure or coronary artery disease and typically does not pump blood as effectively as a normal sized heart. This often results in congestive heart failure and while there can be some improvement over a period of time, it could also result in long-term treatments and various medications.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is what everyone assumes as the end result of heart disease. While that’s true in many cases it is only one of the fatal end results. A heart attack occurs when heart muscle cells begin to die. This is usually caused by a blood clot in an artery clogged by plaque which deprives the heart of oxygen. Permanent damage is sometimes the result although healing begins to occur immediately if the patient is successfully treated in time.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is not a heart attack and does not mean the heart has stopped working. It means the heart cannot pump enough blood either because it can’t fill with enough blood, or it can’t pump blood with enough force. It is a serious condition and should receive immediate treatment.

Irregular Heart Rhythm

An irregular heart rhythm is referred to as “arrhythmia.” It indicates that your heart is out of its normal rhythm. It is sometimes described by patients as a “fluttering” or a “skipped beat” or when the heart feels like it’s beating too fast. When your heart beats too fast it’s referred to as “tachycardia,” and “bradycardia” if it’s beating too slow. Curiously, many people don’t know they have arrhythmia because they feel no noticeable symptoms.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation is the most common form of arrhythmia. It occurs when the electrical signals that regulate heart rhythm become jumbled resulting in the heart contracting very fast and irregularly, or “fibrillate.”

Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease afflicts five million Americans a year according to the American Heart Association. There are several forms of the disease but they tend to fall into two categories. Valvular stenosis which is a hardening or stiffness in the leaflets of the valve causing them to not fully open or in some cases, to fuse together. Valvular insufficiency is sometimes called “leaky valve.” This is when the valve does not close completely allowing some blood to flow backwards through the valve when the heart beats. As the condition worsens the heart has to work harder potentially leading to the development of an aneurysm, enlarged heart or other complications. There are four valves in the heart and all are subject to these conditions.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

This is another condition related to the electrical impulses that manage heart rhythm. It is sometimes the result of “ventricular fibrillation” which causes the ventricles or chambers of the heart to flutter or quiver. The result is that not enough blood is delivered to the body and unconsciousness can result. This condition requires emergency treatment and is often fatal.

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital relates to birth defects that are sometimes a genetically inherited condition. There are numerous types of congenital heart disease ranging from a heart that wasn’t formed properly at birth, to a hole in the septum which is a wall of tissue that separates the left and right side of the heart. Heart valve conditions are often the result of a congenital condition. There are other defects ranging from a combination of conditions to the location of blood vessels.

Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy)

Heart muscle disease is when the heart is abnormally thickened, enlarged or stiffened. This compromises the heart’s ability to pump blood leading to heart failure and a backup of blood into the lungs and/or the rest of the body. It can also cause arrhythmia. There are three common types:

  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This form of heart muscle disease affects the left ventricle. This is the heart’s primary pumping chamber and when it is enlarged or weakened the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased. It can eventually affect the heart’s other chambers.

  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

This is a thickening of the heart and usually occurs at the septum which separates the left and right ventricles. The ultimately leads to a stiffening of the wall of the heart and creates abnormal mitral and aortic valve function impeding heart blood flow.

  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

This is a rare form of heart muscle disease affecting the walls of the ventricles. They become rigid and lack flexibility allowing the ventricles to fill with blood. Over time the heart cannot pump blood effectively and heart failure results.

Pericarditis

The pericardium is a sac of three thin tissues that surround the heart. The sac is filled with fluid to prevent friction between the tissue layers. When an abnormal amount of fluid accumulates in the pericardium it is referred to as a pericardial effusion. Most pericardial effusions are not harmful but it can impair heart function particularly if a large amount of fluid accumulates.

Marfan Syndrome

Marfan syndrome affects connective tissue throughout the body including the heart. It affects 1 in 5,000 Americans. The primary heart disease caused by Marfan syndrome affects the aorta. This is the artery that carries blood to the rest of the body. This can lead to a rupture of the aorta or a “dissection” or bleeding in the wall of the aorta. This is a serious condition and can be fatal.

Heart Murmurs

Heart murmurs are the result of various conditions. It could be caused by a blood flow that is faster than normal as a result of arrhythmia or another factor leading to an irregular heartbeat. It is often caused by range of failures in the heart valves which can lead to regurgitation or a back flow of blood. The murmur is the actual sound of the blood flow. Some murmurs are referred to as innocent murmurs and is both common and doesn’t require treatment. However, any murmur should be taken seriously until your cardiologist indicates otherwise.

All of these conditions are treatable either through lifestyle changes, medication, surgery or a combination of all three. If you suspect that you or someone you know has a heart condition, see your doctor and discuss the possibility.

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