Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, represents a collection of conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart. It is a leading cause of death globally (killing one Canadian every five minutes), signifying a major health concern. Heart disease can manifest in several forms, from clogged arteries preventing the flow of blood to the heart, to the presence of abnormal heart rhythms, or birth defects of the heart.
Understanding the different types of heart disease is crucial for numerous reasons. First, it can help individuals recognize early warning signs in themselves or others, potentially saving lives. Additionally, it can assist in understanding the risk factors and potential preventative measures associated with each disease.
In this blog, we will discuss several types of heart disease along with their symptoms, risks, and preventive strategies.
Types of Heart Disease
There are numerous different types of heart diseases, each with its own unique characteristics, symptoms, and risks.
Let’s explore some of the most common ones as outlined by the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It occurs when the coronary arteries, which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, become hardened or narrowed due to the buildup of plaque, a condition known as atherosclerosis. CAD is also responsible for causing most heart attacks and cases of angina.
Structural Heart Disease
Structural Heart Disease refers to defects or abnormalities in the heart’s structure – its valves, wall, or chambers. This could include congenital heart defects present at birth, valve issues that develop with age or because of an infection, or problems with the heart muscle itself.
Heart failure, sometimes referred to as congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart is damaged or weakened and can’t pump blood as well as it should. This could be due to the heart’s inability to fill with enough blood or its inability to pump with enough force to supply the body with the needed blood and oxygen.
Heart attack and high blood pressure are the most common causes of heart failure.
Arrhythmias, or heart rhythm disorders, occur when the electrical impulses that control your heartbeats are irregular, too slow, or too fast. This leads to an irregular heartbeat, which may feel like a racing heart or fluttering in your chest.
Understanding the risk factors associated with heart disease is essential in its prevention and management.
Lifestyle factors often play a significant role in the development and progression of heart diseases. These are elements within your control and can be modified with conscious effort.
A diet high in saturated and trans fats, salt, and sugar can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and diabetes, all of which increase the risk of developing heart disease.
Conversely, a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help protect your heart.
Regular physical exercise helps maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure, strengthens the heart muscle, and improves blood flow. A sedentary lifestyle, on the other hand, can increase your risk of heart disease.
Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a buildup of plaque that narrows the arteries and can cause heart disease.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, and even lead to a stroke. It’s advisable to limit intake within recommended guidelines.
Your family history can significantly influence your likelihood of developing heart disease. If your parents or siblings have had heart disease, particularly at a young age, your risk is higher.
Underlying Health Conditions
Certain health conditions can increase your risk of heart disease, including:
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Over time, high blood pressure can damage your heart’s arteries, leading to heart disease.
- High Cholesterol: High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease.
- Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart.
While some risk factors cannot be changed, many can be managed through lifestyle modifications and appropriate medical treatments.
Remember, if you have heart disease, it is recommended that you have an In-Home AED at your house, cabin, vacation home, etc. If you know someone with heart disease, speak with them and their loved ones about proper AED usage and CPR.
Heart disease might be common, but it is not inevitable.
The good news is that many forms of heart disease can be prevented or managed with proactive steps. Eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising regularly, quiting smoking, limiting alcohol, and managing stress in your life can all help combat heart disease. Regular check-ups and screenings can also help catch potential problems early, where they are most treatable.
Every step taken towards a healthier lifestyle is a step away from the risk of heart disease. So keep learning, stay active, and take care of your heart – it’s the only one you’ve got!