What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is an umbrella term that encompasses all illnesses that involve the cardiovascular system, whether they are acute or chronic in nature. Some are inborn, while the most common diseases are the result of unhealthy lifestyles. The signs and symptoms are variable, but mostly involve disturbances in cardiac and blood vessel physiology.
Before understanding the nature of these conditions, we must first offer a simple explanation of how the heart works. The heart is a muscle, and it constantly pumps blood, normally around sixty to a hundred beats per minute.
The right side of the heart is responsible for pumping low-oxygen blood coming from the veins, into the lungs. In the lungs, oxygen from the lung tissue diffuses into the blood. From the lungs, blood that is now high in oxygen is transported to the left side of the heart. The left side of the heart then delivers the blood to the rest of the body, for oxygen and other nutrients to be utilized.
Some diseases are congenitally acquired, meaning that they result from errors in the growth and development of the fetus. There are heart diseases that are due to genetic mutations, while some are due to toxic chemicals or substances that the mother has ingested while pregnant. Most of these congenital conditions are asymptomatic and the patients only manifest signs and symptoms when the heart’s coping mechanisms begin to fail – usually in the early to middle adulthood.
There are also congenital heart conditions that manifest very early in childhood – usually because there is a hole separating the right and left sides of the heart. As a result, the normally separated low oxygen and high oxygen blood are mixed up, and thus blood delivered to the tissues carry less oxygen than what they demand. These diseases require surgical repair of the defects in childhood, or else they can result in death of the patients.
The more commonly encountered heart conditions are in adulthood, as a result of longstanding unhealthy lifestyles. We know all this: that a diet high in salt, fat, and bad cholesterol, coupled with lack of exercises and other vices such as smoking and heavy drinking – is bad for the heart. The result of all these bad habits through the decades, is stiffening of the blood vessels. And because the heart is a muscle, it needs to grow larger if it needs to exert more work to pump blood through the inflexible vessels of the body.
Heart enlargement is only acceptable to some extent – after a while the heart walls become so thickened, that only a limited blood supply is able to enter its chambers. Only then does it become symptomatic. The most common symptoms of chronic heart disease are difficulty in breathing usually after exercise or other vigorous activity, a feeling of drowning on lying down, a longstanding cough, and sometimes swelling of the lower extremities (edema in medical terms).
If you have any of these symptoms, it would be best to consult a physician immediately. Diseases of the cardiovascular system require lifelong medical treatment, to slow down or halt its progression.