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February is Heart Month.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. According the the American Heart Association, 116.4 million (46%) of U.S. adults are estimated to have hypertension. By 2035, more than 130 million adults – 45.1% of the U.S. population – are projected to have some form of cardiovascular disease. 80% of cardiovascular deaths can be prevented.  A healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of heart disease. This includes regular exercise, healthy eating habits, and quit smoking. Researchers find that the risk of a heart attack steadily declines as you increase your cardio fitness. 

Heart Disease

Heart disease (or cardiovascular disease) describes a wide range of conditions that affect your heart.  These conditions may involve blood vessel diseases, heart rhythm problems, and heart defects. Each types of heart disease has different causes and symptoms. It is important to visit with your doctor to discuss your risk factors and heart disease prevention.

Types of heart disease:

  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Enlarged Heart (Cardiomegaly)
  • Heart Attack
  • Irregular Heart Rhythm
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Heart Valve Disease
  • Sudden Cardiac Death
  • Congenital Heart Disease
  • Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy)
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy
  • Pericarditis
  • Pericardial Effusion
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Heart Murmurs 

Coronary Artery Disease

Cardiovascular disease refers to different heart or blood vessel problems and is often used to mean damage to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis – a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries. Plaque buildup thickens and stiffens artery walls, which can stop/slow down blood flow through you arteries to your organs and tissues.

It can be caused by:

  • unhealthy diet
  • lack of exercise
  • being overweight
  • smoking
Cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain; women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue. Symptoms include:
  • Chest, pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in you legs or arms if the blood vessels i those parts of your body are narrowed
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back

You may not be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure. 

Irregular Heart Beat

Common causes of heart arrhythmias include:
  • Heart defects (congenital heart defects)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol and caffeine
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress
  • Some over-the-counter medications, prescriptions medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies
  • Valvular heart disease
A heart arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. Your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, irregularly. Symptoms includes:
  • Fluttering in your chest
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  •  Fainting (syncope) or near fainting

Valvular Heart Disease

There are many causes of diseases of your heart valves. You may be born with valvular disease, or the valves may be damaged by conditions such as:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Infections (infectious endocarditis)
  • Connective tissue disorders
The heart as four valves – the aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid valves. They open and close to direct blood flow through your heart. Valves may be damaged by a variety of condition leading to narrowing (stenosis), leaking (regurgitation or insufficiency), or improper closing (prolapse).
Depending on which valve isn’t working properly, valvular hear disease symptoms include:
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting (syncope)

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects usually develop while a baby is in the womb. Heart defects can develop as the heart forms, about a month after conception, changing the flow of blood in the heart. Some medical conditions, medications, and genes may play a role in causing heart defects. Heart defects can also develop in adults. As you age, your heart’s structure can change, causing a heart defect.

Serious congenital heart defects – defects you are born with – usually become evident soon after birth. Heart defect symptoms in children could include:
  • Pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes
  • In an infant, shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain.
Less serious congenital heart defects are often not diagnosed until later in childhood or during adulthood. Signs and symptoms of congenital heart defects that usually aren’t immediately life-threatening include:
  • Easily getting short of breath during exercise or activity
  • Easily tiring during exercise or activity
  • Swelling in the hands, ankles. or feet

Heart Infections

A heart infection, such as endocarditis, is caused when an irritant, such as a bacterium, virus or chemical, reaches your heart muscle. The most common causes of heart infection include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites
Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner membrane that separates the chambers and valves of the heart (endocardium). Heart infection symptoms include
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness of fatigue
  • Swelling in your legs or abdomen
  • Changes in your heart rhythm
  • Dry or persistent cough
  • Skin rashes or unusual spots

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Causes of cardiomyopathy – a thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle – may depend on the type.
Dilated cardiomyopathy – The most common type of cardiomyopathy. The cause is unknown, but it may be from reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemic heart disease) resulting from damage after a heart attack, infections, toxins and certain drugs. It may also be inherited from a parent. It usually enlarges (dilates) the left ventricle.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – This type, in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, usually is inherited. It can also develop over time because of high blood pressure or aging.
Restrictive cardiomyopathy – This least common type of cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscle to become rigid and less elastic, can occur for no known reason. It may be caused by diseases, such as connective tissue disorders, excessive iron buildup in your body (hemochromatosis), the buildup of abnormal proteins (amyloidosis) or by some cancer treatments.
In early stages of cardiomyopathy, you may have no symptoms. As the condition worsens, symptoms may include:
  • Breathlessness with exertion or at rest
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding, or fluttering
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing heart disease include:

  • Age
  • Gender – Men have a greater risk of heart disease. Women’s risk increases after menopause.
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Stress 
  • Poor hygiene 


Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can’t be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making the some lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease, such as:

  • Quit smoking and tobacco use
  • Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
  • Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce and manage stress
  • Practice good hygiene

When to Call a Doctor

If you or your loved ones have heart disease and show any of these signs, get in touch with your doctor’s office.
  • Feeling of fullness in the stomach with a loss of appetite or nausea
  • Extreme fatigue or less able to complete daily activities
  • Respiratory infection or cough that gets worse
  • Fast heart rate (above 100 beats per minutes)
  • New, irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain or discomfort during activity that goes away with rest
  • Trouble breathing during regular activities or at rest
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as trouble sleeping or feels the need to sleep a lot more than usual
  • Urinate less than usual
  • Gets restless or confused
  • Constant dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea or poor appetite

When to go to the emergency room

Call 9-1-1 if you or a loved one has heart disease and experiences:

  • New chest pain or discomfort that is severe and unexpected. It can happen with or without shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, or weakness
  • Fast heart rate (more than 150 beats for minute), especially if short of breath too
  • Shortness of breath that does not go away when resting
  • Sudden weakness or can’t move his arms or legs
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Faints and loses consciousness

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Links to various resources on the topics discuss on this page. 

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