What is Heart Disease?

  Heart disease, or coronary heart disease (CHD) to call it by its medical name, happens when your arteries become narrowed through a process called Atherosclerosis. When this happens the blood and oxygen supply to the heart muscle is restricted, particularly when you exert yourself and the demands of the heart muscle increase.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

  The main symptom of coronary heart disease is angina, caused by insufficient oxygen reaching your heart muscle because of the lessened blood flow. Angina is a feeling of heaviness, tightness or pain in the middle of your chest that may extend to, or just affect, your arms, neck, jaw, face, back or abdomen.

  It is most often experienced during exertion - for example if you run for a bus, play a game such a tennis or football, climb stairs or walk uphill. It may come on in cold weather, after a heavy meal or when you are feeling stressed. It can subside once you stop what you are doing or take medication.

  Unfortunately, for many people the first indication that something is wrong is a heart attack, or myocardial infarction. This happens when the blood supply to a part of the heart muscle is interrupted or stops, usually because of a blood clot in the coronary artery. The pain of a heart attack maybe severe or maybe mistaken for indigestion but unlike angina it doesn't go away. Other symptoms include sweating, light-headedness, nausea or breathlessness which unlike angina are not alleviated by rest.

Identifying symptoms

  The following symptoms are by no means always due to coronary heart disease and could be harmless or due to other medical conditions. However if you experience any of them it is a good idea to make an appointment to see your doctor:

  • Unusual breathlessness when doing light activity or at rest, or breathlessness that comes on suddenly.
  • Angina - chest pain, heaviness or tightness in the chest that comes on during exertion, emotional stress and may spread to arms, neck, jaw, face, back or stomach.
  • Palpitations - awareness of your heart beat or a feeling of having a rapid and unusually forceful heart beat, especially if they last for several hours or recur over several days and/or cause chest pain, breathlessness or dizziness.
  • Fainting - although not always a serious symptom, fainting is due to insufficient oxygen reaching the brain which may be due to many reasons, so you should report it to your doctor.
  • Fluid retention or puffiness - (oedema to use the medical term) is abnormal accumulation of fluid in tissues such as ankles, legs, lungs and abdomen. Although usually perfectly normal e.g. on a hot day, it can be a sign that the heart is not pumping as well as it should (heart failure).
  • Bluish tinged fingernails or around lips - known medically as cyanosis - it can be a result of too little-oxygen in the blood.
  • Fatigue - fatigue is a very common symptom with numerous causes including depression. It is always worth seeing the doctor if you feel unusually tired, especially if it is combined with symptoms that can not be explained.
  • Severe crushing chest pain that may come on at rest and is accompanied by sweating, light-headedness, nausea or shortness of breath and lasts more than 15 minutes may be a heart attack. Seek medical help immediately by phoning 999 and asking for an ambulance. This will ensure prompt treatment and less damage to heart muscle may occur.

Causes of Heart Disease

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