There are many different problems of the
heart and circulatory system. They are often interrelated, but each has
its own name. Here’s a list of the key conditions and what they mean.
Angina. Pain felt in the chest due to insufficient blood supply
to the heart, generally as the result of arteriosclerosis of the coronary arteries,
usually experienced during exercise or stress.
Arrhythmia. A disruption of the regular rhythmic beating of the
heart. Arrhythmia can occur in a healthy heart and be of minimal consequence. It
also may indicate a serious problem and lead to heart disease, stroke or sudden
Atherosclerosis. A process in which the blood vessels narrow and
harden through build-up of plaque in the walls of arteries. Plaque is made up of
deposits of fats, cholesterol and
other substances. Plaque formations can reduce or close off the blood’s flow
through an artery. When a plaque formation becomes inflamed and unstable, it may
rupture, setting loose a blood clot that can narrow the artery or completely block
it. When that blockage occurs in a coronary artery (the arteries that supply blood
and oxygen to the heart itself), it can cause a heart attack. When it occurs in
a carotid artery (the main arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain),
it can cause a stroke. If the blockage remains in the peripheral arteries, it can
cause pain, changes in skin color, sores or ulcers, or difficulty walking. Total
loss of circulation to the legs and feet can cause gangrene and loss of a limb.
Cardiomyopathy. A disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed
and doesn’t work as well as it should. There may be multiple causes, including
viral infection. Primary cardiomyopathy cannot be attributed to a specific cause,
such as high blood pressure, heart valve disease, artery diseases, or congenital
heart defects. Secondary cardiomyopathy is due to specific causes. It is often associated
with diseases involving other organs as well as the heart. There are three main
types of cardiomyopathy: dilated; hypertrophic; and restrictive.
Congestive heart failure. Develops when the heart’s pumping
ability diminishes due to blockages or restriction of blood flow. With heart failure,
the weakened heart can’t supply the cells with enough blood. This results
in fatigue and shortness of breath. Everyday activities such as walking, climbing
stairs, or carrying groceries can become very difficult.
Coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD refers to atherosclerosis in
the coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle with blood.
Carotid artery disease. Atherosclerosis in the arteries that supply
blood to the brain.
Endocarditis. Infection of the heart’s inner lining (endocardium)
and valves. Bacterial endocarditis occurs when bacteria in the bloodstream (bacteremia)
lodge on abnormal heart valves or other damaged heart tissue. This can occur during
dental and periodontal surgical procedures.
Heart attack (coronary thrombosis, myocardial infarction [MI]).
When the heart muscle, or myocardium, stops functioning due to loss of blood flow,
nutrients, or electric signal.
High blood pressure/hypertension.
Your heart pumps blood in a loop through the body: out through the arteries, back
through the veins. Blood pressure is the force in the arteries when the heart beats
(systolic pressure) and when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure) measured
in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Blood pressure is driven in large part by the
openness and elasticity of the blood vessels, which can be negatively affected by
atherosclerosis, hormonal imbalance, and nerve signals from the brain. Besides being
a measure of poor cardiovascular health,
high blood pressure forces your heart and arteries to work harder, and your
major organs are affected. You can live for a long time with no signs of high blood
pressure, until the whole system begins to collapse under the workload. High blood
pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease (which leads to heart
attack), stroke, heart failure and kidney failure, especially when combined with
other risk factors. We highly
recommend the book What Your Doctor May Not
Tell You About Hypertension, by Mark Houston, MD.
Hypercholesterolemia/hyperlipidemia are the terms used to describe
chronic high levels of cholesterol in the blood, largely exacerbated by diet. Small
fat deposits beneath the skin can signal hypercholesterolemia. Familial hypercholesterolemia
is a rare genetically inherited disorder that causes severe high cholesterol beginning
at birth and is unrelated to diet.
Mitral valve prolapse. The mitral valvel lies between the heart’s
left atrium (upper, holding chamber) and left ventricle (lower, pumping chamber).
The mitral valve has two flaps, or cusps. Mitral valve prolapse is when one or both
valve flaps are enlarged, and some of their supporting "strings" may be
too long. As a result, when the heart beats the mitral valve flaps don’t close
smoothly or evenly. Instead, part of one or both flaps collapses. This sometimes
lets a small amount of blood leak backward through the valve and may cause a heart
murmur. Mitral valve prolapse is also known as click-murmur syndrome, Barlow’s
syndrome, balloon mitral valve, and floppy valve syndrome.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD). Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
occurs when arteries outside the heart and brain become blocked. The most common
cause of PAD is atherosclerosis, a hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to
fatty buildups. PAD is most common in the arteries in the pelvis and legs.
Stroke. Affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. Strokes
occur when blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain are either
blocked by a clot (thrombosis or embolism) or burst. When that happens, part of
the brain can’t get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.
Most strokes are caused by thrombosis or embolism; these are called ischemic strokes.
Ruptured blood vessels cause hemorrhagic or bleeding strokes.