Understanding the Different Types of Heart Disease
The heart is one of the most vital organs in the body. It’s responsible for pumping blood throughout our intricate network of arteries and veins. There are many types of heart disease that can affect the normal healthy function of this crucial organ, and it’s important to be aware of the various types of potential ailments.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease refers to any condition that affect the normal function of the heart.
This can include diseases in the arteries and blood vessels, in the muscles of the heart, involving the heart’s valves, or the heart’s rhythm or heartbeat.
It’s estimated that one in every four deaths in the United States is attributable to heart disease, so it’s important to know the types and warning signs of each.
Types of Heart Disease
Here are some of the most common types of heart disease that you should be aware of.
Valvular Heart Disease
This type of heart disease refers to issues surrounding the normal function of the valves that regulate blood flow in and out of the heart, surrounding the heart chambers. Problems include valves failing to fully open or close, which can result in leakage with varying degrees of severity.
Symptoms of valvular heart disease can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swelling in the ankles or feet
- Pain in the chest
Causes of Valvular Heart Disease
Valvular heart disease is something one can be born with, or it can occur later in life. The root cause can be infections, or stem from risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diseases such as diabetes.
Coronary Artery Disease
This is by far the most common and well-known type of heart disease, and the one that usually comes to mind when you think of heart issues. The common heart attack falls under this umbrella of heart disease, which refers to when the arteries leading into the heart become partially or fully clogged with built-up plaque.
Heart attacks (coronary heart disease) come with some hallmark symptoms to look out for, such as:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, upper stomach, jaw, or neck
- Inability to breathe deeply
- Cold sweats
Many people who suffer heart attacks describe the warning signs as less like severe pain, and more akin to indigestion. Others have described it like a sudden exercise intolerance or being unable to do activities they’d normally do.
Causes of Coronary Heart Disease
In this common type of heart disease, a build-up of plaque over time is almost always the root cause. As the plaque accumulates, it becomes more difficult for blood to flow freely through the veins, and the eventual result is a heart attack.
Though the most common type, it’s also the most preventable. This build-up is caused by a poor diet (high in saturated fat and processed foods), a lack of exercise, and other risk factors such as obesity and smoking.
This type of heart disease affects how the heart muscles squeeze and pump blood throughout the body. Sometimes it results in the heart being unable to pump blood out, a thickening of the heart muscle, or a rigidity of the heart, causing it to restrict.
With this type of heart disease, there may be no symptoms at all in the early stages. Once the disease worsens, the following symptoms can emerge:
- Swelling, mostly in the legs and feet
- Feeling out of breath easily
- Irregular or fluttering heartbeats
The underlying cause of this type of heart disease is often unknown. It could be an inherited disease, or it can develop as a result of high blood pressure or cholesterol, lifestyle choices such as drug and alcohol use, or issues like thyroid disease, vitamin deficiencies, or connective tissue disorders.
Heart Rhythm Disease
Irregular heartbeats are the hallmark of this type of heart disease. Heart rhythm disease is also referred to as arrhythmias, and can refer to both a too-fast heart rate, or too slow, or instances where your heart skips a beat or in any way beats out of a normal sequence.
You may notice the following symptoms:
- A “fluttering” feeling in the chest
- Noticeable racing or slow heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
This type of heart disease, though certainly a malfunction, can come in a wide range of severity. An irregular heart beat can be caused by something as innocent as too much coffee or stress, or it could be a symptom of heart disease. This is why it’s always best to see a doctor.
Causes of Arrhythmia
This type of disease can be caused by heart defects someone has from birth, from lifestyle habits such as smoking, excess use of alcohol, uncontrolled stress, and other risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Arrhythmia can also be a side effect of another type of heart disease: a heart attack, or a lingering symptom you’re left with after heart surgery. It can also be caused by less dramatic culprits, such as an imbalance of electrolytes in the blood.
Ways to Prevent Heart Disease
A lot of prevention methods come down to lifestyle changes. This should be encouraging, as we can all take control of our day-to-day choices to make strides in keeping our hearts healthy. Actions like regular exercise, eating heart-healthy diets (high in vegetables, legumes, and low in red meat and saturated fat, for example) not smoking, and controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol are critical.
An overall healthy lifestyle, in other words, is key to lowering the risk of heart disease of all types.