Differentiating the root causes of heart issues
The term “heart disease” is used to describe numerous ailments that affect the heart. The term is often used synonymously with “cardiovascular disease,” which describes problems with the heart and blood vessels that can lead to chest pain, a heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, or a stroke.
The five primary types of heart disease are:
- Coronary artery (atherosclerotic) heart disease
- Valvular heart disease
- Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
- Congenital heart disease
Let’s take a closer look at the causes and symptoms of these five types of heart disease.
Coronary artery (atherosclerotic) heart disease
Coronary arteries provide the heart muscle with the nutrients and oxygen it needs. Coronary artery disease (CAD) occurs when plaque build-up or a clot clogs the arteries to the heart, causing the heart to get less of these nutrients and oxygen. Plaque is made up of several elements, including cholesterol and byproducts of inflammation.
As plaque builds up over several years, the arteries become narrower, causing the blood flow to the heart to be slowed or blocked. Reduced blood flow can eventually lead to blood clots, angina, or a heart attack.
Coronary artery disease can stem from a number of different controllable and non-controllable factors. The non-controllable ones include gender (men have a higher risk) and aging. The controllable factors include smoking, high blood pressure, lack of physical activity, high cholesterol, and being overweight.
There aren’t many symptoms of coronary heart disease in the early stages. As the disease advances, angina or a heart attack may occur, which may lead to a diagnosis of the CAD.
Valvular heart disease
The heart contains four valves that open and close in order to lead blood in and out of the heart. Valvular heart disease occurs when these valves get damaged, which affects how the valves control the flow. This can involve narrowing, leaking, or improper closing.
Much like CAD, valvular heart disease can be caused by a variety of controllable and non-controllable factors. Non-controllable factors include being born with a deformed valve or genetics that cause valve tissue to decay faster with age. Valvular heart disease can also be caused by rheumatic fever, a heart attack, bacterial endocarditis, or rheumatoid arthritis.
More controllable factors include having high blood pressure, taking the migraine medicine Methysergide or certain diet drugs, and radiation therapy.
Symptoms of valvular heart disease include shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, swollen feet or ankles, and fainting.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle which makes it harder for the muscle to squeeze and pump blood through the rest of the body. There are three main types of cardiomyopathy: dilated, hypertrophic, and restrictive. Cardiomyopathy can lead to other heart conditions such as blood clots, valve problems, cardiac arrest, and heart failure.
Causes of cardiomyopathy include long-term high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, pregnancy complications, nutritional deficiencies, long-term alcohol abuse, and the use of some chemotherapy drugs and radiation.
Similar to CAD, there aren’t many symptoms of cardiomyopathy in the early stages. As the disease advances, symptoms may start to appear, such as swelling of the legs, ankles, or feet, extreme fatigue, breathlessness, dizziness, and fainting. These symptoms can get progressively worse if cardiomyopathy is not treated.
Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
Arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses that control the heart aren’t functioning properly, causing the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly.
Arrhythmias may be hereditary but can also be caused by an infection, extreme stress, anemia, thyroid disease, other heart conditions, and the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, or drugs like cocaine or amphetamines.
Some symptoms of heart rhythm problems include a racing heart, a slow heart, chest pain, and shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting. But, as with other conditions, arrhythmias may also have no noticeable symptoms until an emergency happens.
Congenital heart disease
Congenital heart disease (CHD) stems from a congenital heart defect that causes a problem with the heart’s structure. Heart defects are one of the most common types of birth defects and can involve an abnormality in the walls of the heart, the heart valves, or the arteries and veins near the heart. They can disrupt blood flow through the heart – either slowing it down, causing it to go to the wrong place or in the wrong direction, or blocking flow entirely.
These defects manifest during fetal development. Some researchers say there is no known reason for them, while others posit they can be related to specific genes or environmental factors while in the womb.
Severe defects can be found during pregnancy or after birth, while others can go undiagnosed until the child is older. Symptoms of severe defects include rapid breathing, fatigue, and poor blood circulation, while the less severe cases can have no symptoms at all. Congenital heart disease can go undetected until it causes sudden cardiac arrest, which “is a major cause of mortality in adults with” CHD.
Spotting, managing and preventing heart disease
Heart disease is easier to treat when diagnosed early, so it is important for you to know your family’s medical history, discuss it with your doctor, and get regular checkups that may spot any hidden issues. In addition, many of the causes of heart disease – including the most common, atherosclerosis – can be mitigated or prevented altogether with lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and regular exercise.
And should you ever be in a position to witness someone with heart disease having a heart attack or undergoing sudden cardiac arrest, it’s important to know what to do.
One Beat CPR + AED provides American Heart Association CPR and AED training for groups and individuals. For more information or to sign up for a class, call us at 954-321-5305.