What is Heart Disease?
Heart Disease is a broad term for categorising conditions that adversely affect your heart. Heart disease conditions include coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmias and various heart defects, such as congenital heart defects, which can be present from birth. Heart disease is caused by a number of various factors depending on the specific area of the heart affected.
The medications used for Heart Disease vary according to the specific area needing to be addressed, but some common forms include ACE inhibitors, Anticoagulants (also known as blood thinners), Beta Blockers, Antiarrhythmics or Statins.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
There are a few factors that can contribute towards your risk of developing heart disease. These include:
- Age: Older age increases the risk of damaged and narrowed arteries as well as deteriorated heart muscles.
- Sex: Men are more at risk of heart disease. Women’s risk of heart disease increases after menopause.
- Family History: Relatives with a history of heart disease increase the risk of coronary artery disease. The risk increases when a close male relative has developed the disease before the age of 55, or 65 for a close female relative.
- Smoking: Substances in cigarettes damage the arteries. Heart attacks are more common in smokers.
Unhealthy Diet: Diets high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol have been linked to heart disease.
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can harden and thicken arteries, interrupting blood flow to the heart and body.
- High Cholesterol: increases the risk of atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- Diabetes: increases the risk of heart disease.
- Obesity: excessive weight typically worsens other risk factors.
- Lack of exercise: a sedentary lifestyle is associated with many types of heart disease and its risk factors.
- Stress: can potentially cause damage to the arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
- Poor Dental Health: Poor oral health can increase the likelihood of germs and bacteria entering the bloodstream and travelling to the heart.
Causes of Heart Disease
Causes of coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease is most commonly caused by a buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries (atherosclerosis). Risk factors include poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking. Healthier lifestyle habits can reduce these risk factors
Causes of Heart Arrhythmias
Multiple conditions can cause or can result from heart arrhythmias, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- Drug abuse
- Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
- Heart problem present at birth (congenital heart defects)
- High blood pressure
- Heart valve disease
Causes of Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital Heart Defects develop while a baby is growing within the womb, changing the way the heart develops. It affects the blood flow of the heart. Some environmental, genetic and several medications can increase the risk of Congenital heart defects. Congenital Heart Defects are a common form of birth defect in Australia with an estimated 2,400 babies affected in Australia each year. *
Causes of Cardiomyopathy
Cardiomyopathy can be identified by the thickening or enlarging of heart muscles. There are several types:
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: the most common form of cardiomyopathy. It most typically affects the left ventricle of the heart, interrupting the primary pumping chamber of the heart. It can be caused by heart attacks, toxins and other drugs. It can also be inherited.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Most commonly Inherited from family members.
- Restrictive cardiomyopathy: The least common form of cardiomyopathy, it can seem to occur without reason. It can be caused by a buildup of a protein called amyloid in the heart ( cardiac amyloidosis) or connective tissue disorders.
Causes of Heart Infection
Heart infection can occur when germs reach the heart or heart values. Bacteria, viruses and parasites are the most common causes of heart infection.
Causes of Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease can be caused by congenital heart defects as well as these conditions:
- Rheumatic fever
- Infections (infectious endocarditis)
- Connective tissue disorders
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What are the symptoms of Heart Disease?
As heart disease is a broad term describing the various conditions that affect the heart, there are a variety of symptoms unique to each form of heart disease. It’s important to monitor for heart symptoms and discuss potential concerns you have with your doctor or health care provider. Heart disease may not be diagnosed until a heart attack occurs, where it can be detected early with regular health checkups.
Seek immediate medical care if you experience these symptoms.
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of Coronary Artery Disease
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper belly area r back
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in legs or arms.
Symptoms of Heart Arrhythmia
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Slowed heartbeat
Symptoms caused by congenital heart defects
Serious heart defects are usually detected soon after birth. Symptoms in children can include:
- Pale, grey or blue skin (cyanosis)
- Swelling in legs, belly area or areas around eyes.
- Shortness of breath during feedings, causing poor weight gain.
Less severe forms of congenital heart defects can be diagnosed later on in childhood or potentially adulthood. Symptoms may not be immediately life threatening and can include:
- Easily getting fatigued during exercise
- Easily losing breath during exercise
- Swelling of ankles, hands and feet
Symptoms caused by cardiomyopathy
Early stages of cardiomyopathy may not immediately be noticeable. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include:
- Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting
- Shortness of breath during rest or activity
- Shortness of breath when trying to sleep or waking up with shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat. Pounding, fluttering or rapid heartbeat
- Swollen legs, ankles and feet.
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What medications are used for Heart Disease?
There are a variety of medications to treat Heart Disease. Here are some medications that can help treat the various conditions caused by heart disease.
Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are medications that can help relax and increase the blood flow provided by veins and arteries. They help lower blood pressure and reduce the symptoms of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. The following are examples of these medications: captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, perindopril and many others.
Antiarrhythmics help to regulate a person with arrhythmia’s heartbeat by regulating the heart’s electrical activity. Common drugs include amiodarone, bretylium and dofetilide.
It helps decrease the clotting ability of the blood, which help prevent blood clots from forming. They are used in events of a heart attack. These may be warfarin, heparin or dalteparin or others for example.
Beta blockers are often prescribed after the event of a heart attack as they minimise the effects of harmful substances produced by a heart attack. They can also be administered to treat high blood pressure, angina and heart arrhythmia. Common Beta blockers used are Atenolol (Tenormin), Betaxolol (Betoptic eye drops, Kerlone tablets) or Bisoprolol (Zebeta).
Statins are used to help lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. They can lower triglyceride levels, where if built up, can elevate the risk of atherosclerosis. Some of the most common types of Statins include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol XL), lovastatin (Altoprev), pitavastatin (Livalo).
Which medication should I take?
Always consult your health care professional when considering any medication for any existing or suspected health condition. A good medical professional should prescribe a treatment plan and answer any questions you may have. If you have any persisting symptoms listed above, please consult your doctor or medical care professional.
* Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Congenital Heart Disease in Australia Report
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