Cardiovascular Conditions: Overview
Cardiovascular conditions – also called heart disease, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease – is a simple term used to describe a variety of conditions affecting the structures and functions of the heart. Many problems are related to plaque buildup in the walls of the heart’s arteries or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke. Other types of heart disease include heart failure, an irregular heartbeat – or arrhythmia – and heart valve problems.
Many heart conditions are closely related to other disorders of the cardiovascular system including peripheral artery disease, pulmonary hypertension, aortic aneurysms and blood pressure (hypertension). One or more of these conditions is commonly seen along with heart disease. This means adequately treating one results in helping to treat the other.
There are many types of cardiovascular conditions. Some of the more common conditions and risk factors include:
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA)
AAA is a localized, balloon-like enlargement in a section of the aorta within the abdomen. The major complication with AAA is rupture, which is often life-threatening.
Angina is chest pain or discomfort caused by insufficient blood flow and oxygen to the muscle of the heart.
This is an abnormal heart rhythm. This occurs when the electrical impulses are not conducted normally, causing the heart to beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm.
This is the narrowing and thickening of arteries. Atherosclerosis develops for years without causing symptoms. It can happen in any part of the body. Around the heart, it’s known as coronary artery disease, in the legs it is known as peripheral arterial disease.
Atrial Fibrillation (A-fib)
This is one of a number of disorders commonly referred to as 'arrhythmias.' Atrial fibrillation is when the heart beat is irregular and often rapid.
Cardiac arrest, also called Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), is the sudden, unexpected lack of blood flow due to ineffective heart action.
Cardiomyopathy in Adults
Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or rigid and as cardiomyopathy worsens, the heart becomes weaker. This can lead to heart failure or irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias. The weakening of the heart can also cause other complications, such as leaky heart valves or kidney problems.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance used by the body to build cell walls and for making several essential hormones. Your liver produces cholesterol and you also absorb it from the animal fats you eat. If your cholesterol is abnormal, it can result in plaque buildup in the arteries affecting the flow of the blood and putting you at risk for heart attack or stroke.
Congenital Heart Defects
Children and adults can be diagnosed with a heart defect present at birth. Congenital heart defects happen because of incomplete or abnormal development of the fetus' heart during the very early weeks of pregnancy. Some defects are known to be associated with genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, but the cause of most congenital heart defects is unknown.
Diabetes is a condition where the body fails to utilize the ingested glucose properly. This can be due to insulin imbalance. Many diabetic patients don’t realize that they are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
A heart attack happens when there is a sudden blockage to an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the pressure of your blood in your arteries as the heart pumps it around your body.
This occurs when the heart muscle has become too weak to pump blood through the body as effectively as normal.
Heart Valve Problems
Your heart has four valves that open and close to let blood flow through and out your heart. Problems occur when the valves don’t work property. They can be present at birth or caused by infections, heart attacks, heart disease or damage. The main sign of heart valve disease is an unusual heartbeat sound called a heart murmur.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions – increased blood pressure, high blood sugar level (glucose), excess fat around the waist and high cholesterol levels – that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Your risk for all three increases with the number of risk factors you have.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)
Peripheral artery disease is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries, often caused by plaque buildup (fatty deposits), results in reduced blood flow to your legs, arms or torso. Symptoms include pain when walking. PAD may be a sign of a more widespread accumulation of plaque in your arteries called atherosclerosis that can also reduce blood flow to your heart and brain.
Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the pulmonary system. It causes shortness of breath and has many causes.
A stroke occurs from lack of blood flow to an area of the brain caused either by bleeding or blockage of an artery. It's the fourth leading cause of death, however can often be prevented when risk factors (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking) are controlled.