What is Heart Disease
The human body is a magnificent machine and its primary objective is to keep us alive. While we sleep, our immune system, heart, kidneys, and many other bodily functions are hard at work 24/7.
The human heart is a magnificent organ and its function is to pump an adequate amount of blood throughout the entire body including itself, 24/7 without fail. Any disturbance in blood flow can and most likely will result in damage to the tissues that are lacking in blood flow unless of course the heart stops in which case death can result within minutes. Anything that causes inadequate blood flow in the body can be the heart itself or a main coronary artery blockage, or other organs or tissues due to small blood vessel damage and/or blockage.
While genetics play a major role in heart disease, its not a free ticket to eat what you want, drink alcohol on a daily basis, sit around and watch tv, smoke, etc. and think that just because your parents or grandparents lived to a ripe old age that you will do the same.
Fact is, every single thing we put in our mouth will contribute to our overall health. Yes, no two people are alike, and some people can get away with eating just about anything and may never get heart disease. However, most people are rolling the dice if they want to follow a typical American diet while trying to maintain a healthy heart.
While this article doesn’t cover every single defect or problem that can go wrong with the heart, it will offer some insight as to how the heart functions and some of the problems people can face regarding diseases of the heart and the coronary blood vessels.
What is Heart Disease
The type of heart disease that occurs in most people actually has nothing to do with the heart itself. For most people, it’s a problem with the circulatory system that involves the arteries and blood vessels. For example, when someone has a heart attack it’s usually caused by a blockage of one or more of the main coronary arteries leading to the heart preventing the flow of blood which carries oxygen and much needed nutrients to the heart tissues. When this occurs, tissue begins to die, and the longer a person goes without oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, the more damage the heart and other organs will sustain.
Other forms of heart disease include stroke and high blood pressure to name a couple.
So, what causes heart disease? Well, there are many factors that determine if someone at some point in their life will have to face this number one killer among Americans.
First one is genetics as I stated earlier. Genetics play a huge role on whether or not you are predisposed to heart disease. Things such as family history can help narrow it down. However, there is a blood test that can help determine if you have the sticky form of LDL which is the so-called bad cholesterol. This blood test is called Lipoprotein(a). Research is showing that individuals with a high level of LP(a) have a much higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke due to its role of altering the LDL cholesterol in the body. LP(a) is also inherited, so if your parents have a high LP(a), then most likely yours will be high as well.
Types of Heart Disease
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main causes is atherosclerotic heart disease which affects the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis is primarily caused by the buildup of plaque on the arterial walls caused by endothelium damage. The endothelium is a thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood and lymphatic vessels. There are many things that can cause endothelium damage such as smoking, high blood pressure, high sugar diet, and the list goes on.
When the endothelium becomes damaged the body sends out the repairman so to speak. The repairman is LDL cholesterol, and in some people their body has a tendency to over repair the damage and this causes a buildup of excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol and before long an occlusion takes place which consists of cholesterol, calcium, fibrin, and other fatty substances.
Two things can happen if there is a buildup of plaque on the arterial wall. The first thing is over time the plaque can buildup to the point it blocks blood flow which in turn would cause chest pain or heart attack depending on the severity of the blockage. The other thing is a piece of plaque could break off and get stuck somewhere in the circulatory system. If it gets stuck in the brain you have a stroke. If it gets stuck in the lungs you have an embolism. Also, at the site where the plaque broke off, the body quickly responds by attempting to patch the damage. In this process is where the body can overcompensate the repair and a complete occlusion of the artery can take place in as little as a few minutes to as long as a few days. Either way, if blood flow is interrupted to any part of the body you will need emergency medical treatment immediately.
The second cause of heart disease is cardiomyopathy
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle itself and it affects how the heart muscle squeezes while pumping blood. The heart muscle is thickened and enlarged, and this can be acquired due to another disease process like high blood pressure or it can be inherited from a gene that was passed on by a parent.
As the heart disease worsens it can cause a variety of symptoms due to less blood flow throughout the body and when there is less blood flow to vital organs there can be a vast number of severe complications that can occur.
A simple visit to your cardiologist asking them to perform an echocardiogram will rule out this specific form of heart disease or it will give you some insight as to the severity and what treatment options may be available if in fact you are diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
Another form of heart disease affects the valves and the valves control the flow of blood to and from the heart.
There are four heart valves and valvular heart disease is characterized as one of those valves having a defect or damage. The valves that control the flow of blood between the upper and lower chambers referred to as the atria and the ventricles of the heart are called the mitral and tricuspid valves.
The valve that controls the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs is called the pulmonary valve, and the aortic valve is responsible for blood flow from the heart to the aorta so blood can be delivered out to the rest of the body.
When the valves are all working properly they will deliver an adequate amount of blood with the right amount of pressure and keep the blood flowing in the right direction at the right time. As you can see the heart valves play an important role in maintaining proper blood pressure in and out of the heart so every organ in your body can receive an adequate amount of blood that is necessary to maintain normal function for those organs.
Any time a heart valve is not functioning properly it can cause regurgitation which is a backflow of blood in the chamber of which that blood had previously exited. Over time this can cause the heart to weaken due to the valve’s inefficiency and result in a thickening and/or enlarging of the heart muscle itself.
Symptoms of heart disease resulting from a damaged valve varies from person to person depending on the severity. While one person may not experience any symptoms at all, another person may experience fatigue, dizziness or fainting if stenosis is severe, and heart palpitations with possibly some chest discomfort. There can be many more symptoms so it’s always important to consult with your cardiologist to make a definite diagnosis.
One of the best types of tests to diagnose a heart valve problem is an echocardiogram. This test can display images of the heart valves, chambers, etc. and is very precise in determining the overall structure of the heart and how well it’s performing.
The other test is a cardiac catheterization where the cardiologist will thread a small catheter and measure pressures within the heart chambers to detect any abnormalities. This particular test is invasive and would most likely not be done unless there were abnormal findings on an echocardiogram.
Another type of heart disease affects the entire electrical system of the heart.
If there is a problem here, a person can have an arrhythmia and irregular heartbeats. While there are some forms of arrhythmia that can be fatal by causing sudden cardiac death, there are some that pose no threat to life whatsoever. However, feeling your heart flip flop in your chest can definitely be worrisome for people, especially if they’ve never experienced the problem before. This is why it’s very important to consult with your physician or cardiologist if you experience any new symptoms that you think may be related to your heart.
There are several things that can cause an electrical disturbance in your heart. The first one is called AFib or Atrial Fibrillation. This particular disorder affects millions of people and because of the erratic electrical signals to the heart’s upper chambers it usually results in an erratic or very fast heart rate. Even though AFib is not life threatening it can lead to other problems like heart failure over time which would then result in swelling of the hands, legs, and feet with extreme fatigue. Most people that are diagnosed with AFib are often prescribed blood thinners to lessen the risk of clotting since blood tends to pool in the chambers and having blood that takes longer to clot can have a protective effect against stroke.
Another problem with the electrical system in the heart can be with the pacemaker in which the sinus node is not working properly. This particular problem is referred to as sick sinus syndrome (SSS). In SSS the heart rate can go from fast to slow and back to fast and usually occurs in combination with AFib or AFL which is an atrial flutter. The diagnosis is usually done through patient examination, history, and electrocardiogram (ECG). The treatment for this particular problem usually involves the implantation of a pacemaker and taking certain anti-arrhythmic medications.
Ventricular Fibrillation is yet another problem with the electrical system of the heart. This type of arrhythmia is responsible for approximately half of all deaths related to cardiac issues.
What happens in VF is the heart rate is very fast and erratic causing the lower chambers of the heart to spasm which results in the heart’s inability to pump blood. VF can be brought on by a sudden blockage of a main artery and it can happen without warning because the heart is not receiving an adequate flow of blood it can no longer pump, and death can result within minutes.
The only real way to stop the VF is by using a defibrillation device, so if this does occur it’s very important to receive medical treatment immediately. In some cases, emergency personnel will administer a clot busting agent to help facilitate the dissolving of the clot should that be the primary reason the VF occurred in the first place.
Last but not least there are people that are born with heart defects and those problems can range from electrical rhythm disturbances, valvular disorders, and most commonly a structural defect. If you were born with a heart defect, then depending on what the defect is, you could be faced with any of the heart issues I’ve outlined on this page.
How Diet Plays a Role in Heart Disease
If you ask most people what they think causes heart disease they will tell you eating fried foods that contain a lot of fat. That’s because it was embedded in the minds of people over and over again for many years until just recently. Research is now showing that when it comes to heart disease, fats are not really a contributing factor. However, not all doctors are on board with the latest research and a lot of them still believe that eating a low fat diet is the best option for heart health.
So, let’s dig a little deeper on how dietary fats play a role in not only the health of your heart, but the health of your entire body.
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