All you need to know about heart disease

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Contd. from last edition

Depending on which valve isn’t working properly, valvular heart disease signs and symptoms generally include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting (syncope

Risk factors

Risk factors for developing heart disease include:

  • Age. Growing older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and a weakened or thickened heart muscle.
  • Sex. Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. The risk for women increases after menopause.
  • Family history. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).
  • Smoking. Nicotine tightens your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers.
  • Poor diet. A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
  • High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of plaque formation and atherosclerosis.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
  • Obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other heart disease risk factors.
  • Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors as well.
  • Stress. Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
  • Poor dental health. It’s important to brush and floss your teeth and gums often, and have regular dental checkups. If your teeth and gums aren’t healthy, germs can enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart, causing endocarditis.

Complications

Complications of heart disease include:

  • Heart failure. One of the most common complications of heart disease, heart failure occurs when your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Heart failure can result from many forms of heart disease, including heart defects, cardiovascular disease, valvular heart disease, heart infections or cardiomyopathy.
  • Heart attack. A blood clot blocking the blood flow through a blood vessel that feeds the heart causes a heart attack, possibly damaging or destroying a part of the heart muscle. Atherosclerosis can cause a heart attack.
  • Stroke. The risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease can also lead to an ischemic stroke, which happens when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked so that too little blood reaches your brain. A stroke is a medical emergency — brain tissue begins to die within just a few minutes of a stroke.
  • Aneurysm. A serious complication that can occur anywhere in your body, an aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of your artery. If an aneurysm bursts, you may face life-threatening internal bleeding.
  • Peripheral artery disease. When you develop peripheral artery disease, your extremities — usually your legs — don’t receive enough blood flow. This causes symptoms, most notably leg pain when walking (claudication). Atherosclerosis also can lead to peripheral artery disease.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness, often caused by an arrhythmia. Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it results in sudden cardiac death.

Prevention

Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can’t be prevented. However, the same lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease can help you prevent it, including:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
  • Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce and manage stress.
  • Practice good hygiene.

Cont. in next edition

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