Heart Disease 101: The Basics

Heart disease is a serious condition that is the leading cause of death amongst men and women in the United States, but while this condition may currently be affecting you or someone you love, or has affected you or someone you love, not everyone is educated about exactly what it means, and understandably so.

To start, the term is often used interchangeably with cardiovascular disease. However, heart disease specifically refers to issues and deformities in the heart itself, while cardiovascular disease includes problems with the blood vessels and circulatory system as well. Heart disease includes a wide array of conditions such as abnormal heart rhythms, coronary artery disease, and other heart-specific defects. 

In layman’s terms, heart disease is caused when plaque buildup thickens the artery walls and inhibits blood flow from the arteries to the heart, therefore damaging the heart. This “plaque”  is a waxy substance made up of cholesterol, fatty molecules, and minerals. The buildup makes it difficult for oxygen and nutrients to reach the organ, and as a result, damaging heart issues occur.  

Understanding the factors that put you at risk for this umbrella term is significant. Top risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Additionally, things like diabetes, obesity, an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use may also contribute. 

Even healthy people are at risk for heart disease at a certain point: regardless of health factors, the risk increases significantly for men at age 45, and for women at age 55. Make sure to have regular checkups once you or a loved one has reached this milestone. 

It’s also important to understand that because heart disease is such a vast topic every individual case is different. Still, common symptoms are pertinent across the specifics such as the chest pain associated with heart disease known as angina that occurs when a part of the heart does not receive enough oxygen. In fact, signs of a heart attack may feel or present as a more severe version of angina. Additionally, heart palpitations and breathlessness are both common heart disease symptoms, too— make sure to pay special attention during times of stress, and physical activity, as this is often when such symptoms occur.

Luckily, there are treatment options for those at risk for heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, or heart valve problems. For starters, a lifestyle change will need to be implemented immediately. This will naturally be different depending on the individual and it’s best discussed with your doctor, but likely will include a shift in diet and physical activity levels. While lifestyle change plays an important role in keeping the heart-healthy, there are also medications that can help aid with specific diagnoses. Lastly, surgery may be needed in certain cases to help ensure oxygen and blood flow to the heart.  

While heart disease is an incredibly vast and highly variant condition, knowledge is power. We encourage all of our patients to discuss a consultation to talk about concerns, prevention, and maintenance. 

 Don’t let your fear control you. For all of your health needs, give us a call in Fairbanks, Alaska at (907) 451-1174.

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