Cardiovascular disease refers to a group of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels of the body. These diseases can affect one or many parts of heart and /or blood vessels. A person may be symptomatic (physically experience the disease) or be asymptomatic (not feel anything at all). The sooner you detect cardiovascular disease, the easier it is to treat.
A medical category specialising with disorders of the heart, cardiology is a field that includes diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart defects and other heart-related diseases. Cardiologists are physicians who specialise in this particular field of medicine.
The causes of cardiovascular disease can vary depending on the specific type of cardiovascular disease. For example, coronary artery disease or peripheral artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries). Arrhythmias can be caused by coronary artery disease, scarring of the heart muscle, genetic problems, or medications, to name a few. Valve disease can be caused by aging, infections, rheumatic disease, etc.
Cardiovascular disease symptoms can vary depending on the cause. You might experience:
- Chest tightness or pressure.
- Difficulty catching your breath.
- Dizziness or fainting.
- Heart palpitations (heart pounding or racing).
- Pain or numbness in your legs or arms.
- Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting.
Cardiovascular disease risk factors may be:
- Increasing age
- Family history of premature cardiovascular disease
- Diet and dietary patterns
- Physical inactivity
An important aspect of lowering risk of cardiovascular disease is managing health behaviors and risk factors, such as diet quality, physical activity, smoking, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, total cholesterol or blood glucose.
Few of us have ideal risk levels on all screening tests. However, if you do have test results that are less than ideal, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to develop a serious cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, it means you’re in a position to begin changing your health in a positive way.
Some measurements such as body weight and blood pressure are taken during routine medical appointments and some cardiovascular screening tests begin at age 20. The frequency of follow up will depend on your level of risk.
You will probably require additional and more frequent testing if you’ve been diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as heart failure or atrial fibrillation, or if you have a history of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition, your healthcare provider may want more stringent screening if you already have risk factors or a family history of cardiovascular disease.
Here are the key screening tests for monitoring cardiovascular health:
Blood pressure is one of the most important screenings because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms so it can’t be detected without being measured. High blood pressure greatly increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. If your blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg, be sure to get it checked at least once every two years, starting at age 20. If your blood pressure is higher, your doctor may want to check it more often. High blood pressure can be controlled through lifestyle changes and/or medication.
You might have a fasting lipoprotein profile taken every four to six years, starting at age 20. This is a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. You may need to be tested more frequently if you’re at an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.
Like high blood pressure, often cholesterol can be controlled through lifestyle changes and/or medication.
By checking your waist circumference or use your body weight to calculate your body mass index (BMI) during your routine visit, these measurements may tell you whether you’re at a healthy body weight and composition. Being obese puts you at higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, and more.
High blood glucose or "blood sugar" levels put you at greater risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems including heart disease and stroke.
Lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease can help you prevent it, including:
- Don't smoke.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
- Eat a diet that's low in salt and saturated fat.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce and manage stress.
- Practice good hygiene
Our patients access to a wide variety of cardiovascular assessment and diagnostic tools at their disposal through our cardiological specialist department. With tools such as the Electrocardiogram (EKG) and various other stress tests, our cardiologists can determine a wide range of heart and blood vessel disorders.
Heart size and function is also determined by Echocardiograms, while ultrasounds help evaluate the blood flow to parts of the body. If narrowing of the arteries are a concern, cardiac catheterisation helps our specialists zero in and determine the problem areas. We also provide a variety of therapeutic procedures to aid the restoration of blood flow in the arteries via methods such as angioplasty (blood vessel widening), atherectomy (arterial plaque removal), and arterial stent and balloon inflation placements.
Our specialty department also includes pacemaker and defibrillator implantation to help improve heart function as well as normalise heart rhythm depending on the patient's individual needs. A full range of vascular treatments for various peripheral conditions and diseases such as blocked arteries, aneurysms and strokes can be proposed by our panel of vascular surgeons.
- Cardiologists work together with our team of dedicated cardiothoracic surgeons and are trained to perform a wide range of procedures on the lungs, chest wall, diaphragm and heart. This specialty is exclusively for the treatment of diseases, trauma, and congenital or acquired heart and vessel deformities.
- Certain diseases benefit greatly from such cardiothoracic procedures and include but are not limited to arterial blockage, valvular disorder, aneurysms and congenital heart defects such as the prolapse of mitral valves.
- Our team is specialised and trained to the highest calibre and consists of cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists, intensivists and anaesthetists in order to provide every patient the top-quality care Gleneagles strives to offer.
- Cardiac electrophysiology - the study of the heart beat and rhythm
- The study of the structure, mechanical and muscular function of the heart via ultrasound technology
- Interventional cardiology
- Minimally invasive treatment of structural, coronary and vascular issues via use of small catheters, stents and mechanical devices
- Nuclear cardiology - the study of myocardial blood flow and contractility of the heart during restful and exercised states via small radioactive tracer imagery
We also have a dedicated team of compassionate and highly-trained physicians as well as nurses to help provide the most comprehensive rehabilitative care for all our patients, ensuring nothing but a successful outcome to every unique cardiological surgery.
Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis. Among other things, the nicotine in smoke causes:
- Less oxygen to the heart
- Higher blood pressure and heart rate
- More blood clotting
- Damage to cells that line coronary arteries and other blood vessels
There are some risk factors that you can't do anything about. These include:
- Being male
- Being a woman who is past menopause
- Being older
- Having a family history of heart attack or coronary artery disease
Other risk factors can be controlled. These include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Lack of exercise
- Unhealthy diet
You can do several things to cut your chances of heart disease. If your arteries are already clogged, you can slow the damage with a healthier diet, exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing stress. With lifestyle changes, you can stop or even reverse the narrowing of arteries. While this is important for those with risk factors for the disease, it is even more important if you have had a heart attack or procedure to restore blood flow to your heart or other areas of your body.
Eating right is a powerful way to reduce or even eliminate some heart disease risk factors. A heart-healthy diet can help cut total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and help you shed pounds.
Try these tips:
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
- Cut trans fats from your diet. Swap saturated fats for unsaturated ones.
- Eat lean sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, and soy. Avoid red meat, as this tends to be high in fat and cholesterol.
- Eat complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta and limit simple carbohydrates such as regular soda, sugar, and sweets.
- Cut down on salt.
- Exercise regularly.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy material made in the liver. It’s in foods such as egg yolks, milk fat, organ meats, and shellfish. You can lower your high cholesterol levels by eating foods low in saturated fats, sugar, and calories.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over 40 years old, especially after menopause. Once a woman reaches the age of 50 (about the age of natural menopause), the risk for heart disease increases dramatically. In young women who have undergone early or surgical menopause, the risk for heart disease is also higher, especially when combined with other risk factors such as:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol, especially high LDL or "bad" cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
- Family history of heart disease
- Problems during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or elevated sugars
- Rheumatologic and inflammatory diseases
MYTH: “I’m too young to worry about heart disease.”
FACT: How you live now affects your risk for cardiovascular diseases later in life. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries.
MYTH: “I’d know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs.”
FACT: High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because you don’t usually know you have it. You may never experience symptoms, so don’t wait for your body to alert you that there’s a problem.
MYTH: “I’ll know when I’m having a heart attack because I’ll have chest pain.”
FACT: Not necessarily. Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms. These include shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back.
MYTH: “Diabetes won’t threaten my heart as long as I take my medication.”
FACT: Treating diabetes can help reduce your risk for or delay the development of cardiovascular diseases. But even when blood sugar levels are under control, you’re still at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
MYTH: “Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.”
FACT: Although people with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, you can take steps to dramatically reduce your risk.
MYTH: “I don’t need to have my cholesterol checked until I’m middle-aged.”
FACT: It’s a good idea to start having a cholesterol test even earlier if your family has a history of heart disease. Children in these families can have high cholesterol levels, putting them at increased risk for developing heart disease as adults.
MYTH: “Heart failure means the heart stops beating.”
FACT: The heart suddenly stops beating during cardiac arrest, not heart failure. With heart failure, the heart keeps working, but it doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.
MYTH: “This pain in my legs must be a sign of aging. I’m sure it has nothing to do with my heart.”
FACT: Leg pain felt in the muscles could be a sign of a condition called peripheral artery disease. PAD results from blocked arteries in the legs caused by plaque buildup. The risk for heart attack or stroke increases for people with PAD.
MYTH: “My heart is beating really fast. I must be having a heart attack.”
FACT: Some variation in your heart rate is normal. Your heart rate speeds up during exercise or when you get excited, and slows down when you’re sleeping. Most of the time, a change in your heartbeat is nothing to worry about. But sometimes, it can be a sign of arrhythmia, an abnormal or irregular heartbeat. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can last long enough to impact how well the heart works and require treatment.
MYTH: “I should avoid exercise after having a heart attack.”
FACT: No! As soon as possible, get moving with a plan approved for you! Research shows that heart attack survivors who are regularly physically active and make other heart-healthy changes live longer than those who don’t. People with chronic conditions typically find that moderate-intensity activity is safe and beneficial.