Heart disease

In general, the term “heart disease” pertains to a variety of chronic and acute medical conditions that affect one or more parts of the heart. The heart is a muscular organ approximately the size of a fist, and is situated at the left side of your chest. The heart endlessly pumps blood, beating approximately 100,000 times each day. Blood delivers nutrients and oxygen throughout our bodies, after which carbon dioxide and some other toxins are transported to our liver, kidneys and lungs for extraction. In addition, the heart has its own supply of oxygen through our veins and a group of coronary arteries. The heart is an endocrine organ that creates hormones such as B-type natriuretic peptide or BNP, and atrial natriuretic hormone or ANP, which coordinate the functions of the heart with the kidneys and blood vessels.

The heart is basically hollow inside. It is vertically divided into two by septum. Each side of the heart contains two inner chambers. One is the atrium, located at the top; and the other is ventricle, which is just below the atrium. Venous blood goes into the right side of the heart, passing by the right atrium, and is pushed by the right ventricle to the lungs, where oxygen is obtained and carbon dioxide is expelled. The blood that is oxygenated, which came from the lungs, is then brought to the left atrium. The left ventricle will pump it to the arteries, which carry it throughout our bodies. Four heart valves control the path and blood flow through the heart chambers. The heart’s characteristic sound — the “lub-dub” beat — is the result of their opening and closing. The heart muscle is referred to as the myocardium, while the membrane that lines the valves and the chambers is known as the endocardium. The pericardium covers the exterior of the heart, and the serous secretes fluid and is located inside the heart. In addition, the pericardium forms a defensive wall all around the heart, and allows it to beat in almost resistant-free surroundings.

Ailments that affect the heart can be either functional or structural. Anything that damages the heart or lessens its oxygen supply will result in a lesser degree of efficiency. In addition, such damage can decrease the heart’s capability to pump and fill, disturb the coordination among blood vessels, heart and kidneys, and further damage the heart itself, as well as the entire body.

Heart disease can be chronic or acute. It can be short-lived, progressive, or comparatively steady. Different heart ailments may show different symptoms and signs, which often vary and become aggravated over the course of time. Chronic heart illnesses may present a series of severely aggravated symptoms. They may clear up on their own, or through medication, or they may continue and even be a threat to your life. For people who are in the early stages of heart ailments, dizziness, nausea, difficulty in breathing (with or without effort), and fatigue are few of the symptoms that may be experienced. These signs, however, do not specify the particular kind of heart illness that is present. The symptoms mentioned can also be found in an array of other illnesses.

Several signs and problems that may occur from heart ailments include the following:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Dilation, where one or more heart chambers are stretched, causing their inner parts to become larger due to added pressure.
  • Embolism blocks the vessels of the blood with a substance that has traveled from a remote site of the body. This is often a blood clot, though it can also consist of air, fat or amniotic fluid.
  • Inability to meet the need for oxygen and removal of wastes, such as occurs during physical activities.
  • Infarction is the loss of muscle cells due to a blockage in the flow of blood.
  • Not having enough contraction or not clearing or filling entirely.
  • Having pain because of ischemia, which is a shortage of oxygen due to lessened flow of blood.
  • Regurgitation is a blood backflow that causes an added pressure on blood vessels of the liver and lungs.
  • Stenos refers to the thinning of the heart openings.
  • Tissue death is the loss of heart tissue because of insufficient oxygen. This type of tissue loss is permanent and results in scarring.
  • Ventricular hypertrophy is a thickening of the heart walls that reduces the size of the chambers, as well as the elasticity of the heart.

Rheumatic heart disease is a disease that is marked by inflammation and pain. Rheumatic fever is a noncontiguous acute fever marked by inflammation and pain in the joints. It chiefly affects young people and is caused by a streptococcal infection. Rheumatic fever is a localized physical condition in which part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot, and often painful. These parts can be joints, brain, heart, and skin. Rheumatic heart disease can affect the body in such a way that a person who suffers from it will experience life-long consequences.

There are a number of symptoms of rheumatic heart disease. If a person has rheumatic heart disease, he or she may experience different problems with heart valves. Heart valves become damaged so that they do not fully close and open. This can lead to many health disorders. The more your heart valves are damaged, the more problems with your health you will experience. The worst result of rheumatic heart disease is congestive heart failure. The enlarging of the heart and its blood pumping dysfunction mark this disease.

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by rheumatic fever. Therefore, it is necessary to cure rheumatic fever in order to prevent it from progressing to actual rheumatic heart disease. Your doctor will likely prescribe a long-term course of antibiotics.  Rheumatic fever can also damage your heart in other ways, and can cause such diseases as bacterial inflammation of the endocardium — the thin, smooth membrane that lines the inside of the chambers of the heart and forms the surface of the valves.

There are some guidelines published by the American Heart Association concerning the prevention of endocardium inflammation. These guidelines have been updated in 2007, and now state that dental, gastrointestinal or genitourinary tract procedures do not cause inflammation of endocardium. That is why it is no longer recommended to take antibiotics before a dental procedure if you have rheumatic heart disease. However, those people who have a prosthetic cardiac valve, previous endocarditis, congenital heart disease, or other serious cardiac conditions, are advised to take those medications as prophylactics before undergoing dental, gastrointestinal or genitourinary tract procedures.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) are the two common types of heart illnesses. Both contribute to Systemic Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), which is the thinning of the heart arteries and all over the body over time, because of the increase of fat deposits that develop plaques or atherosclerosis. This thinning may drastically limit the quantity of blood delivered by the arteries, and can lessen the oxygen that is being provided to the tissues. While the coronary vessels of the blood are slowly thinning, the warning signs often do not appear until the majority of the flow of blood is lost to a particular area of the heart. At that time, it may cause an irregular pain in the chest — or angina — while exercising, which aggravates in severity and frequency over the course of time. If plaques become suddenly expanded (called unstable plaques), a severe thinning of the coronary artery may result in a pain in the chest even while at rest or with minimal effort (called unstable angina). It may even result in myocardial infarction — or simply, “heart attack” — or the loss of a certain area of the myocardium. These types of severe onset of pain in the chest are called Acute Coronary Syndrome.

A heart failure is normally referred to as Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), in which the heart is less efficient in the circulation of blood and does not have the ability to fill or clear the chambers entirely. This can cause the blood to “back up” in the liver, lungs, hands, feet and legs, which can result in fatigue, swelling, and difficulty in breathing. Any slow damage to the heart can eventually lead to a heart failure in the course of time. More often than not, this is due to coronary artery illness, earlier heart attack, damage in the heart valve (that could be either congenital or due to infection), or hypertension or high blood pressure. If the cause is only short-term, then the heart failure can be momentary as well; however, it is often a chronic state worsens over time, and most times improves only with treatment.

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Last updated on Mar 8th, 2009 and filed under Cardiovascular Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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