Whilst heart disease is not the most common disease among older adults, it is the leading cause of death in developed countries. As we age, our artery walls thicken and become less elastic. The can cause damage, which leads to a build-up of plaques on the inside of the arteries. One of the main contributory factors to this build up is raised cholesterol.

Once this process begins, the heart starts to receive less blood and therefore less oxygen. This can cause chest pain, also known as Angina. If the arteries become completely narrowed or blocked because of a blood clot, this can result in a heart attack. A heart attack is accompanied by severe chest pain and breathlessness, sweating, nausea and feeling light headed.

Developing heart disease

The chances of developing heart disease are more likely if there is a familial history of such conditions, or if you have a condition such as diabetes. There are other modifiable risk factors too. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Not getting enough exercise

Solid lifestyle changes will reduce risk factor for contracting heart disease. There are also a wide range of medications available to treat different stages of cardiac problems too. Sometimes surgery might be needed to correct heart problems that medication alone cannot control. A procedure known as an angioplasty may therefore be undertaken to improve the flow of blood to the heart.

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Your heart and your overall health

A human heart is a muscle which is roughly the size of an average human fist. This organ works to pump blood around your body and will beat roughly seventy times per minute. When blood has left the right side of the heart it goes to your lungs where it then picks up oxygen.

The blood then returns to the heart and is pumped through the body’s main organs via a complex network of arteries. It then returns to your heart. This function is known as circulation. The heart itself has its own supply of blood from a network of vessels on the surface of the heart known as coronary arteries.

Heart disease explained

Heart disease is an umbrella term that covers a range of condition that affect the cardiac system. These include:

  • Blood vessel diseases (like coronary artery disease)
  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
  • Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects)

The term heart disease is usually interchangeable with cardiovascular disease. The latter term tends to refer to conditions that pertain to narrow or blocked blood vessels that often lead to heart attack, or at the very least, chest pain.

There are other heart conditions, which affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm. These are also considered to be classed as heart disease too. The simplest way to prevent heart conditions is by making healthier lifestyle choices as outlined above. Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

The symptoms of heart disease do depend on the type of condition you have:

Heart disease in blood vessels – also known as atherosclerotic disease.

Symptoms of this type of disease will vary between men and women. Men are much more likely to suffer chest pain, whilst women are more likely to have other vaguer symptoms such as nausea and extreme tiredness. This is often one of the reasons why the condition goes undiagnosed in women or is not caught sooner.

Symptoms are:

  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain and/or a sensation of numbing and weakness in legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of the body become narrowed.
  • Pain in the neck
  • Pain in jaw
  • Pain in throat
  • Pain in upper abdomen or back

However, many patients are often not diagnosed with heart disease until they have a heart attack or suffer with angina or a stroke. Therefore, it’s important to be health aware and take note of any unusual symptoms you might be suffering from. Discuss anything you feel concerned about with your Doctor.

Heart disease symptoms caused by congenital heart defects

Sometimes we are born with heart defects. These are known as congenital conditions. They will usually become evident after birth, though are occasionally not spotted until early childhood. Heart defect symptoms in children can include:

  • Cyanosis (greying or blueing of the skin)
  • Swollen legs
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Swollen eyes
  • Shortness of breath, especially at feeding time.
  • No weight gain

There are some less serious congenital heart conditions that are less likely to be diagnosed until later childhood. The symptoms of these include:

  • Shortness of breath on exertion
  • Becoming tired during strenuous activity
  • Swollen hands
  • Swollen feet

Heart Disease caused by weak heart

A weak heart is also known as dilated cardiomyopathy. Unfortunately, the early stages of this condition present no symptoms. As the illness establishes itself, patients may suffer the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness even when resting
  • Swollen legs
  • Swollen ankles
  • Swollen feet
  • Irregular heartbeat (it might feel like it is pounding, going to fast or fluttering)
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

When should you seek help if you’re worried about your heart?

If you present with any of these symptoms, then you should seek emergency medical help:

  • Fainting or losing consciousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pains

The earlier heart disease is detected, the easier it is to treat. Seeking medical help for any concerns you may have is extremely important. You can seek advice on steps to take to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, or to help treat an existing heart condition. This is important for anyone who has concerns, but most especially for those people who have a history of heart disease.

If you think, after reading this guide, you may have some of the signs and symptoms of heart disease, make an appointment to see your doctor immediately.

Recovery from Heart Disease

Medical technologies and treatments have advanced over the last decade or so. Whereas fifty years ago, a heart attack meant you had to live a more restricted life, these days it is possible, with the right care and attention to resume as normal a life as you had before.

There are plenty of advice sites online and NHS services available for those people affected by heart disease. In the interim there are simple steps you can take to look after yourself if you have been newly diagnosed with heart disease, or simply want to reduce your risk of contracting such conditions. These include:

  1. Maintaining a healthy diet, low in fat, salt and sugar
  2. Taking up physical exercise, including walking or swimming
  3. Stop smoking
  4. Lower the amount of alcohol you drink
  5. Better control of blood sugar and cholesterol

If your heart is healthy, you will be healthy too. A heart that is happy and looked after means a longer, fitter and more enjoyable life. You owe it to yourself to take care of your cardiovascular health. Looking for extra advice on private health coverage in times of need? Simply fill out the form below and a live representative will contact you shortly to personally assess your individual situation!