Heart disease is a broad term that refers to any dysfunction of the heart and, by extension, the vessels and structures that support the heart. Cardiovascular disease is another name for the phenomenon, and it is often preferred by physicians because it more accurately describes the disease process.
There are several lifestyle factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, including poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. Heredity is also a very large factor, but heart-healthy practices can help prevent heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease is also considered a silent killer because so many forms of the disease have few-to-no symptoms, and what few symptoms there are generally mimic other disease. In many cases, a person might not realize he has cardiovascular disease until he has a heart attack.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)The coronary artery is the main blood vessel that carries blood and nutrients to the actual heart muscle. Coronary artery disease occurs when the vessel is damaged or blocked, which prevents blood from getting to the heart muscle. Loss of blood flow can kill the heart muscle which can cause a heart attack.
Symptoms of CAD include pain, pressure, and heaviness in the chest – also known as angina. You might also feel a burning sensation, which is easily mistaken for heartburn.
Heart FailureThe heart’s primary function is to move blood around the body in a continuous circuit. Heart failure refers to any disruption in the heart’s ability to perform this basic function.
The most common symptoms are shortness of breath while lying down, cough, fluid retention in your legs and abdomen, and weight gain. You might also experience fatigue and dizziness.
Heart Valve DiseaseThe heart has doorways, called valves, which keep blood flowing in the right direction. When these valves malfunction, it disrupts blood flow which can cause several problems, including difficulty picking up oxygen from the lungs, and difficulty getting renewed blood out to the body.
The symptoms of heart valve disease are similar to those of heart failure.
CardiomyopathyCardiomyopathy is an enlargement and weakening of the heart. Imagine that your heart is a balloon, as the balloon stretches the walls get progressively thinner until the balloon pops. With cardiomyopathy, the thinner heart walls make it harder for the heart to beat properly, and put the heart at risk for ruptures in the muscle walls.
Cardiomyopathy could present with symptoms similar to heart failure, or with symptoms similar to coronary artery disease.
Arterio-/AtherosclerosisArteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis are both characterized by loss of elasticity in your arteries. The main difference between the two is that one is a function of aging, and the other is caused by lifestyle factors – but the end result is the same. The arterial walls become brittle and prone to plaque deposits that can constrict blood flow. Arterio-/Atherosclerosis can lead to CAD, and also hypertension and stroke.
Arterio/Atherosclerosis has no symptoms itself, but later stages can cause symptoms of CAD or heart failure.
If you have any of these symptoms, and are at risk for heart disease, contact your physician.
If you have known heart disease, you are at greater risk for having a heart attack. Having an automated external defibrillator (AED) on hand could ensure your survival in the event of a cardiac event. There are several AED brands available for home use. Consult your physician to determine if an AED is right for you.