Heart disease includes many different conditions that can develop for different reasons. For instance, some types of heart disease are caused by congenital (present at birth) abnormalities in the heart while others may be caused by infections of the heart or the space surrounding the heart. Problems with the way the heart beats (like arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation) or issues that affect how well the heart pumps (heart failure) can contribute to heart disease. Most commonly, heart disease refers to diseases caused by atherosclerosis, a chronic condition that occurs when arteries become “clogged” or narrowed, limiting the amount of oxygen-rich blood that reaches the heart.
The signs and symptoms of heart disease can vary based on the specific type of disease that's present. Some of the most common symptoms include:
* shortness of breath
* lightheadedness or dizziness
* becoming fatigued easily, especially in response to exercise
* recurrent chest pain (angina)
* pressure in the chest
* rapid or irregular heartbeat or palpitations
* swelling in the ankles and feet
Heart disease diagnosis typically begins with a careful review of symptoms and a complete personal and family medical history to look for potential risk factors for disease. An EKG (electrocardiogram) is almost always performed to assess the electrical activity of the heart. Ultrasounds of the heart (called echocardiograms) can also be used to obtain real-time images of the heart while it's beating. Often, echocardiograms are performed in conjunction with a stress test designed to evaluate the heart's performance during physical activity.
The treatment of heart disease will depend on the type and cause of the disease. Some types of heart disease can be managed with lifestyle changes combined with medications to control high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Other types of disease may require long-term use of medication to regulate the heart beat or to assist the heart in pumping blood. And still, others may require surgery to repair defects or “unclog” arteries. Treatment recommendations will be made following a thorough examination and testing.
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