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Do you know the symptoms of heart disease or if you are at risk? Dr. Kolli explains warning signs and prevention

February 05, 2013

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is any disease that affects the heart and or blood vessels of the heart. The heart has various components like muscle, valves, electrical system (conduction system) of the heart, blood vessels of the heart etc. Any of these components can be involved in the disease process.

Why is the heart so important?

The heart is a unique organ in the body, which is responsible for the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. Every organ in the body depends on the heart for supply of nutrients, so that it can function adequately.

What are the common forms of heart disease?

Some of the common forms of heart disease include the following:

  • Coronary artery disease: this is a disease process where there is a fat buildup in the blood vessels of the heart. This can lead to chest pain (angina) and heart attack. If the heart attack is big and is not treated in time, can result in heart failure due to dead and non-functional muscle
  • Heart failure: failure of the heart muscle to either contract or relax. There are various reasons for heart failure. These include heart attack, uncontrolled high blood pressure, dysfunctional valves, certain infections etc.
  • Atrial fibrillation (abnormal rhythm): failure of synchronous contraction between top and bottom chambers of the heart leads to blood clots in the heart and fast heart rates

Am I at risk for heart disease?

Yes, every one is at risk for heart disease. The incidence of heart disease increases with increasing age with some exceptions (congenital heart disease occurs at birth).

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Doctors classify risk factors into modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors. Some of the non-modifiable risk factors include advancing age, gender, family history, postmenopausal status etc. The modifiable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, unhealthy life style etc.

How can I prevent or modify my risk of developing heart disease?

  • Regular physical exercise (aerobic exercise) of moderate to severe intensity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Balanced diet with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, low fat or skim milk, low salt diet.
  • Maintain ideal body weight with regular exercise and healthy diet
  • Get checked for modifiable risk factors, especially if there is a family history. These include checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, getting tested for diabetes etc.
  • If you smoke quit smoking. If some one else smokes in your family, help them quit.
  • Alcohol intake should be in moderation (less than 5 glasses per week).

What if I have family history of heart disease?

You should be even more careful and get your risk profile assessed with a physician. A physician can give you an assessment of your risk score based on physical exam and blood work. Some of these risk scores include Framingham risk score, Reynolds's risk score.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Some of the common symptoms of heart disease include chest pain (described as a heavy pressure, like an elephant sitting on the chest, chest pressure which increases with exertion and relieved with rest, shortness of breath with exertion or at rest, palpitations (fast heart beating sensation, skipped beats, forceful beats), swelling in the legs, sweating, pain in shoulders, pain in the back of the chest between shoulder blades, dizziness, loss of consciousness, fatigue etc.

When should I see a doctor or seek medical attention?

All of us should talk to our doctor about risk of heart disease and prevention of heart disease. All the treatable risk factors should be screened for.

When having symptoms of heart disease one should not delay medical care. Either talk to your doctor immediately or go to emergency room depending on the severity of symptoms (for example chest pain located in the left side of chest associated with sweating and shortness of breath, palpitations associated with dizziness, loss of consciousness, severe shortness of breath at rest or minimal exertion etc).