Understanding Heart Disease
Heart disease encompasses any injury to any structure of the heart. The most common is damage to the coronary arteries from the buildup of plaque in the lining of the vessels. This build up occurs gradually over time. Eventually the vessels become constricted limiting blood supply to the heart during times of increased demand. Alternatively, a small clot can cause an acute blockage restricting all blood supply. The result is sudden tissue death causing acute pain and the potential for death. This is called a Myocardial Infarction (MI) better known as a Heart Attack.
The right or left side of the heart can become overworked. This results when a person has untreated high blood pressure or pulmonary hypertension and the heart pumps harder and harder to supply blood to the tissues. The heart muscle initially gets larger over time to accommodate the increased workload. This is called ventricular hypertrophy. Sometimes the heart muscle is weakened by tissue death that resulted from a MI. Eventually the overworked heart can no longer function ideally. This is known as Heart Failure. There are many consequences of heart failure; pulmonary edema, liver congestion, low oxygen delivery to the brain and circulatory problems are a few examples.
The conduction system can malfunction leading to an abnormal rhythm. The rhythm can be too fast or too slow. This is called a Cardiac Arrhythmia. Common conduction problems include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, supraventricular tachycardia, bradycardia, heart block, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation. Some of these can cause immediate death because the pumping mechanism can be affected during these times.
The heart valves can be damaged resulting in malfunction. They can become too stiff or too floppy. This is called Valvular Heart Disease. This can result from an acquired congenital defect or damage from an infection or other causes. The consequence is that too little blood is pumped to the body or lungs or not enough blood is removed from the lungs. The heart also works harder, trying to meet the demands of the body. The damaged valves can also set up blood clot formation that may lead to sudden death in the form of an emboli or a stroke.
The heart has a clear-cut function but the processes that require implementation are quite complex. Thus there are a numerous ways in which the heart can malfunction leading to serious problems. Even though the heart has a simple function the consequences of heart damage are significant and not easily corrected. The key to heart health is prevention or early identification of problems.
I hope this article has provided you with information that will help you make wise choices, so you may:
Live healthy, live well and live long!
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