Learn more about the different types of heart disease and their common risk factors.
Heart Disease, also known as Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), is a broad term which describes a group of heart-related conditions.
The most common types of heart disease include Coronary Heart Disease, Coronary Artery Spasm, Coronary Slow Flow Phenomenon, Tako-tsubo Cardiomyopathy, Heart Attack, Heart Failure, Valvular Heart Disease and Arrhythmias.
These are described below in more detail:
The most common types of heart disease include:
Coronary Heart Disease otherwise known as Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. CAD is a result of plaque build-up in the coronary arteries which leads to blockages. The arteries become narrow and rigid, restricting blood flow to the heart. The heart becomes starved of oxygen and the vital nutrients it needs to pump properly. Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias.
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI), is when permanent damage to the heart muscle is caused. For a healthy heart, a consistent oxygen-rich flow of blood is required. This blood supply is provided by the coronary arteries and in people with coronary artery disease these arteries are narrowed due to a build-up of fatty matter known as plaque, meaning the blood supply to the heart is limited.
When the build-up of plaque breaks down, blood cells stick to the damaged area and cause a blood clot. If a blood clot totally blocks the artery, the heart muscle becomes “starved” of oxygen. Within a short time, death of heart muscle cells occurs, causing permanent damage.
Coronary Artery Spasm (CAS) is a temporary discomfort or pain that is caused by a temporary spasm (constriction) in one or more of the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply oxygen and nutrients to your heart). It is sometimes called ‘Prinzmetal angina’ and usually happens in people aged 50 years or younger.
Spasms can range from very minor to severe, and sometimes can completely block the coronary artery. Severe CAS which lasts for more than 15 minutes can permanently damage the heart muscle and can lead to a heart attack.
Coronary Microvascular Disease (CMD) affects the small vessels of the heart. One common type of CMD is Coronary Slow Flow Phenomenon (CSFP). Patients with CSFP have dysfunctional microscopic blood vessels causing blood to flow slower through their major heart vessels, producing recurring chest pain. The condition is extremely debilitating and has a severe impact on sufferer’s quality of life.
Tako-tsubo or “broken heart” syndrome as it is more widely known is a potentially fatal heart condition that is often diagnosed in women who’ve had a sudden emotional shock or prolonged stress. Tako-tsubo cardiomyopathy is a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber and the exact cause of the condition is not known.
Heart Failure occurs when the heart does not pump enough blood to satisfy the needs of the body. The term ‘Heart Failure’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the heart has stopped working or is about to, just that it is not performing as well as it should.
A weak pumping heart may be due to previous heart attacks, longstanding high blood pressure, or heart muscle abnormalities – referred to as cardiomyopathies.
Valvular heart disease occurs when the heart valves do not work the way they should.
The heart valves exist at the exit of each of the four heart chambers and maintain one-way blood flow through the heart. The four heart valves make sure that blood always flows freely in a forward direction and that there is no backward leakage.
There are different types of heart valve disease:
Valvular stenosis: This occurs when a heart valve doesn’t fully open due to stiff or fused leaflets. The narrowed opening may make the heart work very hard to pump blood through it. This can lead to heart failure and other symptoms.
Valvular insufficiency: Also called regurgitation, incompetence, or “leaky valve”, this occurs when a valve does not close tightly. If the valves do not seal, some blood will leak backwards across the valve. As the leak worsens, the heart has to work harder to make up for the leaky valve, and less blood may flow to the rest of the body.
Irregular heart rhythm — arrhythmia — is when your heart doesn’t keep up a good beat. An irregular heartbeat is not the same as an irregular heart rate. A heartbeat that is too fast is called tachycardia. A heartbeat that is too slow is called bradycardia.
Arrhythmias may be caused by many different factors, including:
Coronary artery disease
Electrolyte imbalances in your blood (such as sodium or potassium)
Changes in your heart muscle
Injury from a heart attack
Healing process after heart surgery.
Irregular heart rhythms can also occur in otherwise normal, healthy hearts.
Atrial Fibrillation is the most common sort of arrhythmic disorder where the heart doesn’t beat normally. In people with atrial fibrillation the upper chambers of the heart will randomly begin to contract in a chaotic and irregular rhythm. Along with causing palpitations, fainting and chest pain, patients with atrial fibrillation are at an increased risk of experiencing a life-threatening stroke.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
High blood pressure (hypertension)
High body mass index (being overweight or obese)
Insufficient physical activity
Low fruit and vegetable intake (poor diet)
Age, sex, inherited genes or sharing an environment of risky health behaviours can also increase risk.
Conditions such as diabetes, anxiety and depression can increase a person’s risk of developing CVD.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having regular check-ups with your doctor can dramatically reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
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