What exactly is heart disease and who does it affect? The title “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular heart disease refers to the conditions that involve blood vessels that are narrowed or blocked that lead to heart attack, but the term “heart disease” is not in fact one simple disease. It is the central name that encompasses conditions that affect the heart and its functions. Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, killing over 360,000 people annually? It is also the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities across the nation as well. Let’s learn more about the various conditions, who is at risk, how to treat heart disease, and how in home care can positively impact the lives of those living with heart disease.
What is Heart Disease?
When one thinks of heart disease they frequently equate it to heart attacks (which is not actually heart disease, but often one of the outcomes of heart blood vessel diseases like coronary artery disease). This heart disease occurs when cholesterol plaque builds up in artery walls of the heart. This is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. When plaque buildup partially blocks an artery, it decreases the blood flow to part of the heart and can develop chronically (occurring over time) or acutely (occurring suddenly). A heart attack will happen when the plaque ruptures and clots in the artery, completely blocking the artery. As blood supply is unable to reach parts of the heart, the muscle will begin to die. Interestingly, this type of heart disease has been found to begin in childhood. “Coronary artery disease begins in childhood, so that by the teenage years, there is evidence that plaques that will stay with us for life are formed in most people,” according to the American Heart Association journal, ATVB.
Some typical warning signs and symptoms of this form of heart disease are cited by the American Heart Association as chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, palpitations of the heart and even fatigue. However, symptoms can vary between men and women. The organization Go Red For Women, a part of the American Heart Association, have included some additional symptoms for women such as pain/discomfort in their upper body in areas like the jaw, neck, back, stomach, and arms; cold sweat, nausea, and lightheadedness. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, it’s recommended that you call 9-1-1 immediately.
Read more here: Heart Attack Stroke and Warning Signs.
Some additional conditions that fall under the heart disease umbrella are cardiomyopathy which affects how the heart muscle squeezes; valvular diseases which cause the valves that regulate blood flow in and out of the heart to function irregularly; arrhythmias that are rhythm disturbances that affect the electrical conduction of the heart, and congenital heart defects that one is born with.
Who is at risk for developing heart disease?
Some of the main risk factors for developing heart disease are smoking, hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol. Did you know that about half of Americans (49%) have at least one of those risk factors? Some additional conditions and lifestyle choices that can be considered risk factors include:
- Overweight and obesity
- Poor diet
- Physical Inactivity (read our blog about Yoga for Seniors to combat physical inactivity)
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Family history of strokes and heart attacks
How can heart disease be treated?
The type of heart disease you have will affect the type of treatment you receive. For example a person with a recurrent arrhythmia may use a device like a pacemaker or an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) or someone with a heart infection may receive antibiotics. However, general treatments for heart disease cite lifestyle changes as the first line of defense. It’s recommended that individuals with heart disease take following steps: eat a lower-fat and lower-sodium diet, incorporate moderate physical activity into their routine most days of the week, reduce intake of alcohol and quit smoking.
When lifestyle changes are not enough to combat the heart disease, medications may be prescribed to help manage the disease. The type of medication will depend upon the type of disease as well. When the first two steps are still not enough to adequately manage the disease, medical procedures and surgeries may be considered such as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), more commonly known as bypass surgery. These measures are generally for individuals with severe coronary heart disease.
Living with heart disease
Finding out you have heart disease is not a death sentence, but a chance for you to take control of your health. Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t something that just goes away over time with treatment; rather the diseases are managed and treated by living a healthy lifestyle, taking your medications as prescribed, and knowing your body and limitations...being sure to not overdo it physically and seek help for things that may be too physically demanding for you. It is normal to feel guilty, angry, or many other negative emotions when you find out you have heart disease and may need more support doing things you used to do on your own. Some people may even experience depression in relation to having heart disease. Reach out to friends to share your feelings or join a support group in person or online to help cope.
In home care can help those living with heart disease!
At Pennsylvania Agency of Nurses, we have a long history of working with clients who have some type of heart disease. Some of the basic tasks that we can assist with are meal preparation, medication management, incorporating elements of healthy living, driving to doctor appointments, and more! Visit our Services page to learn more about the compassionate, competent care that PAN provides to clients living with heart disease. Better yet - read our Client Testimonials to see what others have to say about working with us!