Heart disease is a term covering a broad range of medical conditions affecting the heart. They include disorders of the blood vessels (Coronary Artery Disease), problems with the heart’s rhythm (arrhythmias), congenital defects (which a person is born with), and cardiovascular disease (atherosclerosis), among others.
Heart Disease Symptoms
Depending on the specific heart condition, the exact symptoms you experience will vary. Common symptoms to many heart diseases include:
- Chest pain (or angina)
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat – rapid or slow
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Swelling in your lower legs
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your healthcare provider.
Heart Disease Causes and Risk Factors
Heart disease is an umbrella term covering a wide variety of conditions with many different causes that are specific to each disease. Some include medications, genetics, high cholesterol, or other medical conditions.
Risk factors are characteristics, either biologic or lifestyle, that may increase your chances of developing heart disease.
- Older age
- Male gender – females are usually at a lower risk until after they reach menopause
- Family history of heart disease – especially if you have a male relative who developed it before 55 years of age or a female one who developed it before 65 years
- Poor diet
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
Heart Disease Diagnosis & Treatment
Your doctor will diagnose your heart disease based on a physical exam, personal and family history, bloodwork, and specific tests to monitor your heart. These may include a chest X-ray, an electrocardiogram (ECG), an echocardiogram, a heart CT scan, or a heart MRI.
Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will provide you with a treatment plan. Since many heart conditions are considered preventable, he or she may prefer you to try lifestyle changes first. Lifestyle changes are small modifications you make in your daily life that can potentially have a big impact on your medical condition. Some examples are
- Eating a low-fat, low-sodium, nutritious diet
- Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week
- Quitting smoking if you’re a smoker
- Limiting alcohol intake to no more than 2 beverages a day for men and 1 beverage a day for women
If you are still having symptoms after successfully making these lifestyle changes, your doctor may recommend you start medication.
Your doctor may prescribe a medication to treat a certain symptom or may order a drug to prevent complications from occurring with your disease. Common medications prescribed for heart conditions are:
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – lisinopril, ramipril, Mavik
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) – Atacand, losartan, Benicar, Micardis, Diovan
- Antiarrhythmics – Rythmol, Betapace AF, amiodarone, Tikosyn, Multaq
- Antianginals – nitroglycerin, Procardia XL, verapamil, Ranexa
- Beta blockers – atenolol, carvedilol, labetalol, Toprol XL
- Blood thinners – Eliquis, Pradaxa, Savaysa, enoxaparin, Xarelto, warfarin
- Cholesterol-lowering medications – Welchol, Tricor, gemfibrozil, Niacin, Zetia
- Diuretics – furosemide, Tekturna HCT, hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ), spironolactone
- Fish oils – over-the-counter Omega-3 fish oil, Lovaza, Vascepa
- Statins – Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Pravachol
If you haven’t been diagnosed with a heart condition yet and are at high risk, or even if you are at a low risk, it’s important to try to prevent developing heart disease. The best way to do that is to decrease your risk by doing the following:
- Quit smoking
- Work with your healthcare provider to control any other contributing medical conditions you may have, like high blood pressure or diabetes
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day for most days of the week
- Eat a nutritious diet and maintain a healthy weight
- Minimize the amount of stress in your life