Heart disease is a series of conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 killer for all Americans and stroke is the fourth leading cause of death. Hispanics and Latinos, however, face even higher risks of cardiovascular diseases because of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
There is good news in the fact that a few simple lifestyle changes can reduce the chances of getting these diseases. Yet at the same time, Hispanics and Latinos face hurdles when it comes to making those changes and accessing health care, including language barriers, lack of transportation and lack of health insurance.
While cardiovascular disease can refer to many different types of heart or blood vessel problems, the term is often used to mean damage caused to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries. This is a disease that affects your arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body. Healthy arteries are flexible and strong.
Over time, however, too much pressure in your arteries can make the walls thick and stiff — sometimes restricting blood flow to your organs and tissues. This process is called arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is the most common form of this disorder. Atherosclerosis is also the most common cause of cardiovascular disease, and it’s often caused by an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking. All of these are major risk factors for developing atherosclerosis and, in turn, cardiovascular disease.
Early heart disease often doesn’t have symptoms; that’s why regular checkups with a healthcare provider are important. Your doctor will check things like cholesterol, a fat that can add to plaques in your arteries, and your blood pressure. He might also do a blood test for CRP (c-reactive protein). You might also have an ECG or EKG, an electrocardiogram. This is a test that looks at electrical activity in your heart.
Everyone should know the outward warning signs of heart disease.
Chest pain should be taken seriously. Pain in the chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back can be a symptom of heart disease. If you have heart disease, you might feel chest pain during physical activity. But, it can have other causes too, so it is important to check with your doctor to learn what is triggering yours.
Other signs of heart disease include:
- A weak or numb feeling on one side of the face or body
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and neck.
Some people who have a problem with their heartbeat may report a fluttering in their chest or the feeling that their heart is skipping a beat or beating too hard.
Exams and Tests
The diagnosis of heart disease begins with obtaining a history that the potential for coronary artery disease exists. Risk factors need to be assessed and risk stratification occurs.
Tests to diagnose heart disease can include:
• Blood tests. You may need to have your blood drawn and tested for substances that could indicate you have heart disease.
• Chest X-ray. An image is created by directing X-rays at your chest and positioning a large piece of photographic film or a digital recording plate against your back.
• Electrocardiogram (ECG). In this noninvasive test, a technician will place probes on your chest that record the electrical impulses that make your heart beat.
• Holter monitoring. A Holter monitor is a portable device that you wear to record a continuous ECG, usually for 24 to 72 hours.
• Echocardiogram. This noninvasive exam, which includes an ultrasound of your chest, shows detailed images of your heart’s structure and function.
• Cardiac catheterization. In this test, a short tube (sheath) is inserted into a vein or artery in your leg (groin) or arm.
• Heart biopsy. Sometimes a heart biopsy will be done as part of cardiac catheterization, especially if your doctor suspects you have heart inflammation and hasn’t been able to confirm that with other tests.
• Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan. This test is often used to check for heart failure or heart arrhythmias.
• Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In a cardiac MRI, you lie on a table inside a long tube-like machine that produces a magnetic field.
Heart disease treatments vary. You may need lifestyle changes, medications, surgery or other medical procedures as part of your treatment.
Cardiovascular Disease Treatments
The goal in treating diseases of your arteries (cardiovascular disease) is often to open narrowed arteries that cause your symptoms. Depending on how severe the blockages in your arteries are, treatment may include:
• Lifestyle changes
• Medical procedures or surgery
• Vagal maneuvers
• Medical procedures
• Pacemakers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)
Heart Defect Treatments
Some heart defects are minor and don’t require treatment, while others may require regular checkups, medications or even surgery.
Depending on what heart defect you have and how severe it is, your treatment could include:
• Special procedures using catheters
• Open-heart surgery
• Heart transplant
Treatments For Cardiomyopathy
Treatment for cardiomyopathy varies, depending on what type of cardiomyopathy you have and how serious it is. Treatments can include:
• Medical devices
• Heart transplant
Heart Infection Treatments
The first treatment for heart infections such as pericarditis, endocarditis or myocarditis is often medications, which may include:
• Medications to regulate your heartbeat
If your heart infection is severe and damages your heart, you may need surgery to repair the damaged portion of your heart.
Valvular Heart Disease Treatments
Although treatments for valvular heart disease can vary depending on what valve is affected and how severe your condition is, treatment options generally include:
• Balloon valvuloplasty
• Valve repair or replacement
Complications of heart disease include:
• Heart failure
• Heart attack
• Peripheral artery disease
• Sudden cardiac arrest
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If you suffer from any symptoms of heart disease, contact a medical professional immediately.
There are many things you can do reduce your chances of getting heart disease. You should:
• Know your blood pressure and keep it under control
• Exercise regularly
• Don’t smoke
• Get tested for diabetes and if you have it, keep it under control
• Know your cholesterol and triglyceride levels and keep them under control
• Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
• Maintain a healthy weight
Keep your lifelines clear and let blood flow freely to your heart. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may help prevent artery blockage and reduce your heart attack risk:
What You Need To Know:
• Trim the unhealthy fat
Protect your heart and its blood supply by cutting meat, dairy fats, and foods containing trans fats out of your diet; fuel up with nuts, olive oil, fish, and other sources of healthy fats instead
• Choose risk-reducing foods
Eat more whole grains, beans and other legumes, vegetables, and fruit
• Ask about aspirin
Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if taking aspirin for heart-attack prevention is right for you
• Discover CoQ10
Reduce complications following a heart attack by taking 120 mg a day of coenzyme Q10, a powerful antioxidant
• Add L-carnitine to your daily routine
Take 2 grams a day of this nutritional supplement to reduce damage and complications following a heart attack
• Don’t forget the fish oil
Reduce the chances of having another heart attack by taking capsules that supply a total of 900 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day
These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist. Continue reading the full heart attack article for more in-depth, fully-referenced information on medicines, vitamins, herbs, and dietary and lifestyle changes that may be helpful.