Heart disease is any illness or disorder affecting the heart muscle. While many things can cause heart disorders, Atherosclerosis, or fatty buildup in the arteries, is a major component in many cases of heart disease.
When arteries are obstructed through fatty buildup, blood cannot flow properly to and from the heart. This can lead to a host of health problems, including heart attack.
Some heart disorders are genetic. These are referred to as congenital heart defects.
Who Gets Heart Disease?
Anyone can be affected by heart disease, but it is more common in adults over the age of 50. There are several factors for heart disease which can increase individual risk. Those who are obese or inactive are at a higher risk, as well as those who eat a poor diet. Smokers also see a marked increase in heart disease compared with those who do not smoke. There is some indication that genetics may also play a role in the development of heart disease, although this is not always a good predictor of overall risk.
What are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
The symptoms of heart disease can be easy to miss, especially in those who don’t realize they are affected. Potential symptoms may be chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness or coldness in the extremities, rapid or fluttering heart rate, pain in the chest or jaw areas, dizziness and fainting. Symptoms may vary between men and women, and between types of heart disease.
Those with chest pain should seek medical attention immediately for an evaluation.
How is Heart Disease Diagnosed?
If heart disease is suspected, patients will have a thorough medical exam. An echocardiogram may be performed, which is a type of sonogram in which a doctor views 2D or 3D pictures of the heart muscle. Other tests which may be used include an EKG, or electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, biopsy, or stress test. According to WebMD, there is no one specific test which can diagnose all forms of heart disease.
Treating Heart Disease
Treatment for heart disease varies based on the type. Medications are often used to thin the blood and allow for better passage through the arteries in those who have blockages. Other medications help regulate heart rhythms, lower blood pressure, or lower cholesterol. Those with severe cases may require surgery to repair diseased or blocked areas of the heart, or in some cases a heart transplant may be necessary.
Those with heart disease, or who are at high risk of heart disease, should follow dietary and lifestyle guidelines set up by their doctors. These guidelines will generally include not smoking cigarettes and other tobacco problems, as these can cause or worsen heart disease.
How does Smoking Contribute to Heart Disease?
Smoking may cause heart disease in a variety of ways. Smoking of tobacco products impairs the lungs, which can lead to reduced blood flow into the heart, and cause an inability to remain physically active. Tobacco products containing nicotine have also been shown to increase blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. In some patients, smoking may also lower HDL or “good” cholesterol, another risk factor.
Studies have shown that women who smoke and take prescription hormonal birth control pills have a much higher chance of developing heart disease than women in the same age range who don’t smoke. Additionally, smoking is the primary cause of cardiovascular diseases in people under the age of 35.
To prevent heart disease, smoking should be avoided. Those who smoke should quit. In many cases, the cardiovascular risk drops considerably the longer one goes without tobacco products.
For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.
Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.
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