During February and March there is a special push to increase awareness about women and their risk of heart disease. My contribution to promoting awareness about heart health is to explain what common diseases are often included in the definition of “heart disease.” I find that understanding a condition and how it relates to you and/or your family increases interest and knowledge as to how such diseases impact your life Let’s start with the definition of “heart disease.” Heart disease is a general term that refers to any disease or condition affecting the heart or blood. The most common diagnoses that fall into the category of cardiovascular disorders are high blood pressure (the technical term is “hypertension”), high cholesterol and heart attack (the technical term is “myocardial infarction”).
In addition to the most common diseases noted above, several others have impacts on health: angina, mitral regurgitation, mitral valve prolapse, cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease, heart arrhythmias, and heart failure.
- Congestive Angina is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Sometimes it can be a precursor to a heart attack so it is important to pay attention and be seen by your doctor if you have persistent chest pain.
- Mitral regurgitation and mitral valve prolapse are problems with one of the valves of the heart not closing properly, allowing blood to flow back into the left atrium from the left ventricle. This results less in than optimal amount of blood going to your body which can make you feel tired. Sometimes Mitral regurgitation and mitral valve prolapse aren’t serious and sometimes they require medical intervention. Regardless, these conditions need to be monitored.
- Cardiomyopathy weakens and enlarges the heart making it harder for the heart to pump. Over time this can progress to heart failure.
- Congenital heart disease is any disease of the heart that you were born with. Some congenital diseases may require surgery while others may be undetected throughout your life.
- Heart arrhythmias are problems with the electrical currents of the heart that cause the rhythms of the heart to be irregular. Arrhythmias can be harmless or could require medical intervention.
- Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart is no longer able to pump all the blood the body needs to meet its requirements. It can be caused by or cause other heart problems.
- Heart disease does not just refer to the heart muscle but also to the blood vessels as well. Two prominent blood vessel diseases are atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease. Atherosclerosis is a build up of waxy plaque on the inside of blood vessels. This causes narrowing of the arteries that can lead to high blood pressure, varicose veins or heart attack. Coronary artery disease affects the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle itself. In this case these blood vessels are damaged and impact the heart’s ability to work correctly. Atherosclerosis can happen to the coronary arteries exacerbating the disease and increasing the risk of heart attack.
As you can see your heart and blood vessels have amazing impacts on the rest of the body. Understanding heart disease can help you better manage any heart conditions you have. I hope this is a helpful picture of all the ways heart disease can impact you and your health.
Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area treats the whole person using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.