Heart Disease Awareness

Dr Thapelo Motshudi
1 August 2023
5 min read

Heart disease awareness is crucial to promote understanding and prevention of cardiovascular conditions that affect millions worldwide. By raising awareness about risk factors, symptoms, and healthy lifestyle choices, we can work together to reduce the impact of heart disease and improve overall heart health.

What causes heart disease?

There are several conditions that affect the heart, but the most common one by far is atherosclerosis, which is abnormal thickening and hardening of the vessels supplying the heart with blood. This process eventually leads to a reduction in the amount of blood flowing to the heart. If the blood supply is still present but significantly reduced, then one develops ischemia and chest pains. If the vessels get blocked completely, then the part of the heart supplied by that specific blood vessel dies, and this is called myocardial infarction, which means death of heart muscle.

What are the risk factors?

There are a number of conditions that increase the risk of developing diseased blood vessels of the heart. The ones that cannot be changed are race, family history of heart disease, and age. Men over the age of 45 and women over 55 are at increased risk. Some of the risks that one can modify to a certain extent include being overweight, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, lack of exercise or physical activity, and diabetes. Using all these listed conditions doctors can calculate the risk of developing a heart attack within the following 10 years.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are generally dependent on the extent of the disease. They include chest pains, shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, abnormal weakness and tiredness, and decreased ability to perform normal daily physical activities like going up a flight of stairs. However, some people can present with more sudden and extreme cardiac arrest. The diagnosis can also be made when one presents with symptoms related to an underlying condition like diabetes.

How is heart disease diagnosed?

It is important to routinely screen for common conditions that predispose one to heart disease. Some of these include high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and excessive weight. Routine physical examinations can also highlight signs that the patient might not be aware of.  If one develops symptoms, several investigations are performed to confirm the presence of heart disease and assess its extent. These include blood tests to look for abnormal chemicals coming from the heart, sonar of the heart called an echocardiogram, CT scans, and visualization of the vessels in the heart using a study called an angiogram.

How is heart disease treated?

The 1st thing to do is to reduce or eliminate all the modifiable risk factors, the most important of which is to stop smoking if one is a smoker. An appropriate weight should be maintained, high blood pressure and diabetes must be controlled, and progression of disease prevented by taking medication that lowers the amount of undesirable cholesterol circulating in the blood. Depending on the doctor’s assessment, one will also be put on several medications to treat angina or chest pains. Ultimately there might be a need to have surgery to unblock the blood vessels that are narrowed and abnormally thickened. This process might also involve placing thin tubes, or stents, inside the blood vessels to ensure they remain open. It is important to note that once symptoms have developed, strenuous exercise must be performed after consultation with your doctor because it might increase the risk of a fatal heart attack. Please contact your local doctor for further information that is more specific to your individual circumstances.

What are the other causes of heart disease?

The heart can also be affected by many other conditions, including congenital ones. These include an abnormal anatomical structure at birth, like having a large hole that connects the 2 ventricles. One can also suffer from abnormal conduction of electricity within the heart muscles, leading to an abnormal rhythm. While rare, it is also possible to get tumors or cancer within the heart, some of which might be metastases from other parts of the body.

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