Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a serious and life-threatening condition. As such, it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment if you or loved one begins to experience the associated symptoms or consequences of this condition. When ignored, heart disease can result in serious health issues or even death. Thus, it is paramount that you seek medical care immediately if you begin to experience any symptoms of heart disease. Thankfully with the right family practitioner at your side, you will receive an accurate diagnosis and obtain the necessary support to manage your condition, so you can lead a long and healthy life. Read on to learn more about cardiovascular disease and how family medicine can help.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease or cardiovascular disease describes several conditions characterized by plaque buildup on arterial walls, also known as atherosclerosis. Plaque buildup may result from one or several factors working together; these include high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity, lack of exercise, stress, poor diet, and genetic factors. As more plaque builds up within the arteries, a person may experience increasingly more unpleasant symptoms. Ultimately, if arterial blood flow becomes completely cut off due to an overabundance of plaque buildup and/or a blood clot, a person may suffer from a stroke, heart attack, or total heart failure. These conditions will be discussed further below:
Heart Attacks, Strokes, and Heart Failure
As was aforementioned, there are three primary consequences of unresolved blockages in the heart: heart attacks, strokes, or total heart failure.
When a person experiences a heart attack, it occurs as result of a blood clot stopping up the flow of blood to the heart. Like all organs, if the heart can no longer receive life-sustaining blood flow, it will begin to die. In some cases, medical intervention may arrive in time and allow for a full patient recovery, while in other cases the patient may succumb to the attack.
Strokes, on the other hand, result from a blood vessel in the brain becoming blocked off from blood flow. When this occurs, the brain cells are unable to sustain themselves and begin to die. Depending upon how quickly medical care is received a person’s level of impairment will vary. Although, regardless of medical treatment, there is typically some form of impairment as a result of having a stroke that may be temporary or long-term. Typically, all strokes will cause some level of impairment with tasks, such as walking and talking.
In cases of heart failure, the heart stops doing its job properly. Subsequently, without correct heart functioning, blood will no longer be pumped throughout the body as it should be, preventing normal oxygenation of the blood. This leads to fatigue, shortness of breath, and eventually death in severe cases.
The good news is that most people who develop heart disease do not die from the condition itself. Instead, they die from complications resulting from the condition. So, why is this good news? Simply put, while complications like heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure are responsible for approximately 70% of deaths related to heart disease, these outcomes can be prevented by receiving early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, effectively preventing more serious consequences.
What Are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
There are many conditions that fall under the umbrella of heart disease, each with their own set of symptoms. Some common symptoms of these conditions include chest pain/pressure, shortness of breath (dyspnea), dizziness, arm/leg/feet/ankle/stomach swelling, nausea, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, inability to breathe while lying down, fainting, weakness/fatigue, and lightheadedness. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is vital that you see your doctor immediately. Simply put, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or a combination of several, it is not normal to feel this way. It is important to immediately schedule an appointment with your family doctor before your symptoms lead to a more serious condition or deadly outcome.
How Is Heart Disease Diagnosed?
To diagnose heart disease, doctors use a variety of tests including electrocardiograms (EKG’s) (which measure electrical activity in the heart), stress tests, blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound scans, and angiography. During the testing process, your doctor will be able to determine the type and severity of your condition.
How Can I Prevent Heart Disease?
Preventing heart disease requires lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking/using tobacco products, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight. Additionally, medications may be prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels or control blood pressure to reduce the likelihood of a cardiovascular event.
How Is Heart Disease Treated?
Once diagnosed, treatment options for heart disease depend on the severity of the condition. While there are many different types of treatments available, the goal of every treatment option is to slow the progression of the condition and improve quality of life. Some treatments may include lifestyle changes, surgical interventions, medication therapy, and even implantable devices.
How Can Family Medicine Help with Heart Disease?
At the first sign of any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is vital that you schedule an appointment with your doctor. Once you arrive at your appointment, be sure to fully disclose everything you have been experiencing for the fastest and more accurate diagnosis. You doctor will then be able to order relevant testing to diagnose you. Once a diagnosis has been determined, your doctor will be able to tailor an ongoing treatment plan to manage your condition. This typically includes prescribing medications and recommending lifestyle modifications. In many cases, this and regular monitoring will be enough to manage your condition without more invasive interventions like stent placement or open-heart surgery. However, in more severe cases of heart disease, surgical interventions may be necessary to remove blockages and prevent heart attacks or strokes.
Your family doctor will also be able to refer you to other specialists whenever necessary, so you can obtain the proper care for your condition every step of the way. Simply put, your family doctor is there to diagnose, treat, and manage cardiovascular disease, whether minor or severe, so you can live your life to the fullest. As with all things, catching it early can lead to better outcomes, and may give you the opportunity to live a healthy life without the necessity of surgical intervention. No matter how insignificant your symptoms may seem, your family doctor is there to help, and you never know that trip to the doctor just might save your life!