What are the most common heart conditions that affect Americans?
Let’s take a look at some of the most frequently diagnosed heart conditions, what causes them, and what symptoms they can cause. The more you know about common health problems, the more information you will have to take care of your own heart health and the heart health of your loved ones.
Coronary artery disease
Coronary artery disease is the most common heart problem. Coronary artery disease occurs when cholesterol builds up in your heart’s artery and “clogs the pipes.” This condition is asymptomatic until it becomes severe enough to block off blood flow. Then, it can cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
Heart attacks, also called myocardial infarctions, are medical emergencies that can result in sudden death! If a cholesterol plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, a blood clot can form and block off blood flow to the heart. Without blood flow, the heart muscle can’t get enough oxygen and begins to die off. Symptoms of heart attacks include sudden onset chest pain or chest tightness.
Arrhythmias occur when there is a problem with the electrical system of the heart. This can cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. There are many types of arrhythmias, but let’s discuss some of the most common ones. In atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, the heart beat is really irregular and can be very fast. Combined with other risk factors, such as hypertension, atrial fibrillation can increase your chance of having a stroke and should be treated with a blood thinner. Premature atrial contractions and premature ventricular contractions are arrhythmias where the heart “skips a beat.”
Valvular heart disease
The heart has four different valves called the tricuspid valve, the pulmonic valve, the mitral valve and the aortic valve. Each of these valves can develop problems. Stenosis occurs when the valve narrows, hardens, and doesn’t open properly, which makes it harder for the heart to push blood across the valve. Regurgitation occurs when the valve doesn’t close properly, and blood leaks backward across the valve. Endocarditis is an infection of the valve, which can cause damage to the vale. Some people are born with valve problems and others can develop them over time.
Like any other organ in your body, the heart can become infected with various bacteria and viruses! Myocarditis occurs when viruses attack the heart muscles and cause damage and inflammation. Pericarditis occurs when viruses attack the sac surrounding the heart, also causing damage and inflammation. As mentioned above, bacteria can also infect heart valves, which is called endocarditis.
Congestive heart failure
In congestive heart failure, the heart isn’t pumping well enough to meet your body’s needs. The pressure in the heart is too high, and this causes blood to back up into the lungs, the abdomen, and the feet, causing fluid accumulation and swelling in those areas. Congestive heart failure occurs when your heart becomes too weak or too stiff to effective pump out blood, or if your valves are damaged. The most common symptoms of congestive heart failure are shortness of breath (especially when sleeping or lying down flat), fatigue, and swelling of the feet.
Congenital heart diseases
Sometimes babies are born with structural heart defects. These can be abnormalities in the vessels that bring blood into and out of the heart, abnormalities in the heart valves, or holes connecting different chambers of the heart. Some of these conditions are very serious and require urgent surgery for the infant to survive.
The aorta is the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. An aortic aneurysm occurs when the blood vessels enlarge or become bulbous in shape. Aortic aneurysms can be caused by genetic conditions such as Marfan's syndrome or as a result of long-term, uncontrolled hypertension. An aortic aneurysm can rupture, which results in blood loss and a high risk of death.