What is heart disease?
Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD), is a general term that refers to a range of conditions that affect the heart and narrow (atherosclerosis) or block (thrombosis) blood vessels. Some common conditions of CVD include:
- Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease, occurs when the blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle become narrowed or blocked due to the build-up of plaque.
- Stroke is a medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, leading to brain cell damage or death. This can happen due to a blockage in an artery (ischemic stroke) or bleeding from a blood vessel in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke).
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) is a condition in which there is a narrowing or blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the limbs, typically the legs. It is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
- Aortic Disease refers to conditions that affect the aorta, the large blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This can include aortic aneurysms, which are abnormal bulges or weakening of the aortic wall, and aortic dissections, which occur when the layers of the aortic wall separate or tear.
The causes of heart disease involve a combination of factors:
- Atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty deposits, cholesterol, and other substances within the arteries)
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
- High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides (another type of blood fat)
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet (high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium), and a sedentary lifestyle
- Diabetes (high blood sugar levels)
- Being overweight or obese
- Family history of heart disease
- Advancing age
Heart disease symptoms can vary widely depending on the individual and the condition you have. There are also some important differences between men and women, but both genders can experience and should look out for any of these common symptoms:
- Chest pain (angina)—experienced by men as classic chest pain or discomfort, and describe as a heavy, squeezing sensation in their chest. Whereas women are more likely to describe it as a pressure or fullness. Women are also more likely to have atypical symptoms such as sharp or burning chest pain, as well as pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or arm.
- Shortness of breath—women are more likely to experience shortness of breath without chest discomfort and may feel breathless during everyday activities or even at rest.
- Unexplained extreme fatigue, weakness, exhaustion—women are more likely to report fatigue as their primary symptom.
- Nausea, indigestion, abdominal discomfort, or a feeling of fullness—more likely in women and can occur without chest pain leading these symptoms to be mistakenly attributed to digestive issues.
- Very fast or slow heartbeat, palpitations (sensations of irregular or rapid heartbeats).
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or feeling faint—more likely in women.
- Pain, weakness, or numb legs and/or arms that comes and goes and gets worse during exercise that uses your legs, such as walking or climbing stairs.