Structural heart disease concept image

What are the Signs of Heart Disease?

Close to 31 million Americans have heart disease and each year over 650,000 people die from the disease. Heart disease usually describes a wide range of disorders that can include the following:

  • A disease of blood vessels (an example would be coronary artery disease); these are the small vessels that supply oxygen to the heart.
  • Rhythm problems (also known as arrhythmias).
  • Structural heart disease (usually one is born with these defects, and they vary in severity).
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Infection of the heart
  • A disease of the heart muscle

Each of these heart disorders can present with unique signs and symptoms. The good news is that, for the most part, adult heart disease can be prevented by making lifestyle changes.

Explain How Hypertension, Heart Disease, and Stroke are Related

There is no doubt that hypertension, heart disease, and stroke are related.  Significant evidence exists that showcases the risk factors.  Hypertension is just another name for high blood pressure.  Hypertension puts stress on your arteries and increases their risk for rupture.  

If an artery in the brain, for example, ruptures causing a split or a division of cells, a hemorrhagic stroke can be the result.  Hypertension is a key factor in heart disease.  Heart disease occurs when your heart can’t function properly due to any issue that affects the heart muscle from pumping blood through the arteries to the rest of your body. 

Signs and Symptoms

What are the signs of heart disease?  What are the symptoms?  How can you tell if you have heart disease? The signs and symptoms depend on the type of heart disease, and they can include the following.

The Disease of the Coronary Arteries

The coronary arteries are very small blood vessels embedded in the heart and they play a vital role in transporting oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. If the coronary arteries develop narrowing or are blocked, then the muscles will start to die. The most common reason why the coronary arteries develop blockages is because of atherosclerosis or fatty plaque buildup. This can result in the following symptoms:

  • In general, men will present with intense chest pain (angina) and women will present with vague chest discomfort.  However, individuals are different and so are their symptoms.
  • Some describe the sensation as chest pressure or chest tightness.
  • Difficulty breathing and/or gasping for air.
  • Excess sweating.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Pain or numbness that may radiate from the chest to the neck and left arm.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Skin that feels cold and clammy.

The disease of the coronary arteries is a medical emergency and if you ever develop the above symptoms, call 911 ASAP. Early treatment can be life-saving.

Heart Arrhythmias

Some people may develop abnormal heart rhythms where the heart may beat irregularly, too slow, or too fast. Heart arrhythmias can present with the following symptoms:

  • Fluttering sensation in the chest
  • Palpitations or a racing heartbeat
  • Chest discomfort
  • Anxiety, apprehension
  • A sensation that something bad will happen
  • Fear
  • Fainting spells
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Excess perspiration

Anytime you have the above symptoms, you should seek urgent medical help. Heart arrhythmias can be very serious and often require immediate treatment.

Structural Heart Disease

The majority of structural heart disease is acquired at birth. These defects do vary in severity and may present with the following symptoms:

  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and lips (cyanosis)
  • Poor feeding habits
  • Irritability
  • Gasping or breathing difficulties
  • Shortness of breath
  • Distended abdomen
  • Failure to thrive
  • Swelling around the face

The most severe structural heart defects are usually diagnosed at birth, but the milder defects may not be diagnosed until late adolescence or even adulthood. The mild structural heart defects may present with the following symptoms:

  • No exercise endurance
  • Shortness of breath with physical activity
  • Fatigue
  • Cold extremities
  • High blood pressure, headaches
  • Palpitations

The majority of structural heart diseases need treatment. Those detected early, in infancy, are usually repaired before the first year of life. When detected in adulthood, they also require treatment.

Heart Disease Involving the Muscle

Heart diseases that involve the muscle are referred to as cardiomyopathies. There are several types of cardiomyopathies. In the early stage, they usually do not cause symptoms but as the disease progresses, the following symptoms may be obvious:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Leg swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath when lying down
  • Irregular heartbeats, palpitations
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting spells

Cardiomyopathies do require treatment when diagnosed; the earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcomes.

Heart Infections 

Sometimes the heart muscle lining or the valves can become infected. Known as myocarditis and endocarditis, these conditions can affect people of all ages. They can present with the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness, fatigue
  • Palpitations
  • Leg swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Dry cough
  • Skin or nail discoloration

Infection of the valves of the heart muscle is usually very serious and demands urgent medical attention. The treatment may vary from antibiotics to surgery.

Valvular Heart Disease

The heart has four valves; they regulate blood flow through the heart and prevent backup. However, the valves may not function for a variety of reasons, including infection, trauma, birth defects, or just wear and tear. 

The valves may either leak and cause backward flow or become narrowed and prevent the forward flow of blood. The symptoms of valvular heart disease depend on which valve is affected but, in general, the following symptoms may appear:

  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Chest discomfort
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Abdomen distension due to accumulation of fluid
  • Difficulty breathing when lying down
  • No exercise endurance
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fainting spells

When the valves are affected, it is important to seek treatment because, in most cases, the damage is progressive. The sooner the heart valve is replaced or repaired, the better the outcome.

Relationship Between Hypertension and Stroke

Hypertension simply means that the individual has high blood pressure. In people who develop high blood pressure, the blood vessels have lost their elasticity and become stiff/hard. It takes the heart more effort to pump the blood through the body when the vessels are stiff and narrow and, consequently, the individual develops high blood pressure. 

Initially, high blood pressure has no symptoms, but if left untreated, it can have devastating consequences.  The reasons are as follows.

  1. Because the heart has to work a lot harder to push the blood against stiff blood vessels, the muscle will grow large and require more oxygen. But the heart muscles will also start to compress the small arteries that supply oxygen to the heart and, eventually, the blood vessels will be completely shut down and the heart will fail. 
  2. Similarly, the constant high blood pressure pushes blood into the brain where the small vessels are only used to lower pressure. This can result in blood vessels rupturing, resulting in a stroke.
  3. The constant high blood pressure can also change the structure of the small vessels in the brain, causing them to become narrow and stiff, and eventually, the brain may not get enough oxygen or nutrients.

Two Types of Strokes

  1. Ischemic, which occurs when the blood vessels to the brain are narrowed or blocked; and
  2. Hemorrhagic, where the blood vessel in the brain ruptures like a balloon and causes a stroke.

Overall, ischemic strokes make up 90 percent of all strokes and tend to occur in older people. Hemorrhagic strokes can occur in both young and old people. In both types of strokes, high blood pressure is a risk factor. Hypertension accounts for about 50 percent of ischemic strokes and over 70 percent of hemorrhagic strokes.

Prevention of Hypertension and Strokes

A stroke can occur if high blood pressure is not adequately treated. The majority of strokes can be prevented by doing the following:

  • Be compliant with your blood pressure medication(s).
  • Monitor your blood pressure at home and see a doctor if it goes above 140/90.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Do not drink alcohol.
  • Lower your body weight if you are overweight.  When you decrease your body weight, you will also decrease the stresses and demands on the heart and reduce your blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole wheat, less meat, more fish, and use unsaturated fats.
  • Exercise regularly because it can not only lower your body weight, but it can also decrease cholesterol levels and lower high blood pressure.
  • Follow-up closely with a healthcare provider.

The above prevention measures can significantly lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. More importantly, your quality of life will be much improved.  Cano Health has a number of cardiovascular specialists on staff, and they are ready to help you assess your heart’s needs.  As well, many proactive and preventive care services will be at your disposal.  Call them at 1.855.447.6059 today to learn more.


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