Heart Disease And How To Treat It

Heart Disease And How To Treat It

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the country.  For this reason, it is important to educate yourself on what heart disease is, how to recognize the symptoms, and how to prevent it if you are at high risk.  Everyone knows about having a heart attack, but there is much more to this epidemic than that. A heart attack is merely an endpoint. Heart disease happens slowly, changing the heart by small degrees, until a heart attack finally occurs. You need to know about heart disease so that you can be prepared and, hopefully, prevent a heart attack.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is really a blanket term for two different types of heart problems: heart failure and coronary artery disease. Heart failure is not often thought of in the realm of heart disease. This condition is defined by a slowly progressing deterioration of the heart muscle. The heart gets weaker, and it isn’t able to pump efficiently. This means the body does not receive enough blood. In the end, the heart will give out.

The more common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease. The coronary arteries are the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Although the heart is filled with blood, it cannot use it to serve itself. The coronary arteries are a network of vessels that crisscross the heart to bring it blood. Unfortunately, these arteries can become clogged with plaques—or bits or clots and embedded cholesterol deposits—and the heart cannot feed itself. The heart muscle beyond the clog begins to die, and this is what is called a heart attack. Small heart attacks happen in small arteries; massive heart attacks happen in big arteries.

What are the causes of heart disease?

Heart disease can be cause by many different factors. First, some heart disease is hereditary. If you have people in your family that have had problems with their heart, then you stand a greater chance of having heart disease, as well. This isn’t to say that you will definitely have a heart attack or that there is nothing you can do. Even though you have a family history, you are not guaranteed to experience heart disease, and lifestyle changes can keep the specter of heart disease from impacting you.

Another cause of heart disease is obesity. If you carry extra weight, you are more likely to have a heart attack. This isn’t so much because the weight stresses the heart but because of the factors that lead to obesity. For instance, diabetes is a common condition that accompanies obesity, and it is a strong factor in causing heart disease. In fact, diabetics can have what’s known as a “silent” heart attack. The heart attack will occur with no symptoms, and makes it very difficult to diagnose before it is too late. Obesity’s role in leading to diabetes makes it strong cause of heart disease.

Obesity can also contribute to heart disease due to the lifestyle choices that are known to cause heart attacks. Eating foods high in cholesterol, fat, and sodium lead to clogged arteries. Lack of exercise is also a culprit in the condition. Getting exercise, eating well, and controlling blood sugars are the best way to hold off heart disease.

Symptoms of heart disease

Heart disease displays symptoms piece by piece. Sometimes, a heart attack can strike like a lightning bolt, but in the majority of cases, symptoms are present long before. In the beginning, heart problems can present as fatigue. Not all fatigue indicates a heart attack, but significant and unexplained fatigue could be an initial warning sign. You may also experience a racing heartbeat or palpitations. As symptoms progress, chest pain could emerge. Again, not all chest pain is a heart attack. Sometimes, chest pain can occur merely because of anxiety. Another possible cause of chest pain is angina. Angina is pain felt in the chest that doesn’t indicate an active heart attack. It usually indicates a narrowing of the coronary arteries, but the blood supply has not been blocked off completely. This is still a medical emergency, but it isn’t a heart attack.

Classic heart attack symptoms include chest pain, pain radiating down the left arm and into the jaw, nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and a pale or grey color to the skin. However, these symptoms are not that easy to see and sometimes not present at all. Like silent heart attacks in diabetics, heart attacks can present with a wide variety of symptoms, especially in women. Back pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Pain in the jaw is another overlooked symptom. The most common overlooked symptom is indigestion. Instead, a heart attack is actually in progress, and the need for definitive care is immediate. Indigestion paired with some of the other symptoms of a heart attack should be immediately checked out by an emergency room doctor.

In the case of heart failure, the symptoms start subtly. You may notice swelling in your ankles that you didn’t have before. Trouble breathing is another sign that your heart may need to be assessed. Your lungs may feel congested, and it is something to definitely mention to your doctor. As heart failure progresses, the symptoms get worse. The swelling will continue, or breathing may become more difficult. Any of these symptoms could indicate heart failure, and they definitely need attention before they get any worse.

Treatment for heart disease

The treatment for heart disease is pretty straight forward. It is treated by medications, such as diuretics (water pills) and drugs that take the pressure off of the heart. These particular medications help the arteries in the body to “relax” and then the heart doesn’t need to pump as hard. Medications to open the airways, such as inhalers, are also helpful for those with breathing problems. At the very extreme end, a heart transplant may be necessary. However, this is not the common course for this type of heart disease. Usually, medications and lifestyle changes are enough to control the disease.

With coronary artery disease, the treatments are more invasive. If it is caught early enough, heart disease can be treated by medication and lifestyle changes. Medications that lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar are some that are used in the early phase. A blood thinner may be used as well or one of the next generation drugs, such as Plavix. At the very least, your doctor will put you on a low dose aspirin regimen to keep your blood from forming artery blocking clots.

In the secondary stage, angina is the main culprit and indicator of an impending heart problem. For angina, nitroglycerin is used to relax the coronary arteries. Nitro is not taken as a daily medicine. It is taken only when the angina flares up, and if the dose does not take care of the problem, it is time to move to the next level of treatment.

With an active heart attack, there are a few options that can help to open the arteries. The first and least invasive method is a cardiac catheterization. A small flexible instrument is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin, and then it is guided up to the heart through the use of specialized x-rays. Once in position, the cardiologist can see where the block is. They remove the block and put in a device called a stent. The stent holds open the artery to prevent future blockage. Stents can be put into multiple arteries. However, stents may not be entirely effective. They can clog again.

The last line of treatment is open heart surgery. The surgery is actually called a coronary artery bypass graft or CABG. The chest is opened down the middle, and a long stretch of vein is taken from the leg. The surgeon uses this vessel to bypass the blockage. They sew the vessel onto one side of the blocked artery and bridge is over the blockage to the other side. This allows blood to flow back to the blocked off tissue. When someone had a quadruple bypass, it means that the surgeon had to perform this procedure four times on four different arteries. Recovery from this surgery is difficult, but not insurmountable. It usually takes months of rest, recovery, healthy eating, and moderate exercise to bounce back from this major surgery.

Heart disease prevention

Instead of enduring all of the pain and suffering that comes with heart disease, it makes sense to find a way to prevent it in the first place. For all forms of heart disease, the formula is simple: eat a healthy diet and engage in moderate exercise. If you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugars in check could also be added. Both conditions, though, will benefit from diet and exercise.

What is a healthy diet?  You should stay away from foods that are high in cholesterol such as red meats, processed foods, and anything high in saturated fats. You should also try to keep your calorie count in the 2000 range for optimum weight loss. Seeing a nutritionist will help determine the number of calories you need and the balance of nutrients you need as well. For instance, protein is a cornerstone of a healthy diet, but most high protein foods contain fat. You can eat protein that is lower in fat, such as chicken, fish, and legumes. This is especially important for diabetics, because they must keep their carbohydrate level low.  Protein is a great alternative.

Moderate exercise is another key facet of preventing heart disease. You don’t necessarily need to join a gym, but you could if you find them motivating. Simply walking would be enough to help control your weight and aide your efforts with your diet. Aim for 30 minutes of walking six or seven days per week. The walking does not have to be strenuous, but it should be enough that your heart rate is elevated. One way to tell you are working hard enough is to walk with a friend and try to talk to them. If you can talk easily, you need to increase your effort. If you can’t speak at all, you are pushing too hard. You should be able to just say enough to converse. Any more or less isn’t helpful for weight loss or heart disease prevention. If you have injuries or mobility issues, there are still ways to exercise. Depending on your mobility, you can do whatever you are able to, such as lifting small hand weights. You could even use a hand bike that are present in many physical therapy offices.

Although heart disease is an epidemic, it doesn’t have to be a killer. Diet and exercise are great ways to keep your heart healthy. Education about the symptoms is important, too, so that you can catch heart disease before it gets bad. Finally, there are many resources out there that can offer help. For instance, certain supplements are under investigation for their importance in fighting heart disease.

Categories: Men's Health

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