Diseases & Conditions
Before you overcome it, you must understand it. If you've been diagnosed with a disease or condition of the heart, we encourage you to educate yourself. Get the facts about your illness. Learn what's happening inside your body. And start writing down your questions. There's no guarantee, but in our experience, well-informed patients get well.
Abnormal Heart Rhythm (Arrhythmia)
Arrhythmias are abnormal beats of the heart, such as:
- Heartbeats that are too slow
- Heartbeats that are too fast
- Extra beats
- Skipped beats
- Beats coming from abnormal areas of the heart
Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease is a defect or malformation in the heart or vascular system that appears before birth. Symptoms of congenital heart disease may appear in infancy, childhood or adulthood.
Types of congenital heart conditions include:
Carotid Artery Disease
Also called "carotid artery stenosis," carotid artery disease refers to the narrowing of the two large blood vessels that supply oxygenated blood to the large, front part of the brain. This narrowing is usually caused by the buildup of fatty substances and cholesterol deposits, called plaque.
How does it happen?
Like the arteries that supply blood to the heart - the coronary arteries - the carotid arteries can also develop atherosclerosis or "hardening of the arteries" on the inside of the vessels.
Over time, the buildup of fatty substances and cholesterol narrows the carotid arteries. This decreases blood flow to the brain and increases the risk of stroke.
A stroke can occur if:
- the artery becomes extremely narrowed
- there's a rupture in an artery to the brain that has atherosclerosis
- a piece of plaque breaks off and travels to the smaller arteries of the brain
- a blood clot forms and obstructs a blood vessel
What are the risk factors?
The risk factors for carotid artery disease are similar to those for other types of heart disease. They include:
- hypertension (high blood pressure) - the most important treatable risk factor for stroke
- abnormal lipids or high cholesterol
- diet high in saturated fats
- insulin resistance
- sedentary lifestyle
- family history of atherosclerosis, either coronary artery disease or carotid artery disease
Men under the age of 75 have a greater risk than women. Women have a greater risk over the age of 75. People who have coronary artery disease have an increased risk of developing carotid artery disease. Typically, the carotid arteries become diseased a few years later than the coronary arteries.
How is it diagnosed?
There are often no symptoms of carotid artery disease until you have a stroke. That's why it's important to see your doctor regularly for physical exams. Your doctor may listen to the arteries in your neck with a stethoscope. If an abnormal sound is heard over an artery or vascular channel, it may reflect turbulent blood flow. That could indicate carotid artery disease.
Your doctor may also use a test to diagnose carotid artery disease. Possible tests include:
- Carotid ultrasound
- Magnetic resonance angiography
- Computerized tomography angiography
- Cerebral angiography
What is the treatment?
To effectively treat carotid artery disease, doctors recommend the following:
- Follow recommended lifestyle changes, such as:
- Quit smoking.
- Control high blood pressure.
- Control diabetes.
- Have regular check-ups with your doctor.
- Have your doctor check your cholesterol and get treatment, if necessary.
- Eat foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and salt.
- Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight; avoid weight gain.
- Increase exercise to at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
- Limit alcohol to one drink per day for women, two for men.
- Take medications as prescribed.
- Consider a procedure to improve blood flow, if your doctor believes it could help. Potential procedures include carotid endarterectomy and carotid artery stenting.
Aorta Disease & Marfan Syndrome
Aorta Disease: Many diseases and conditions, such as hypertension, genetic conditions (such as Marfan Syndrome) and injury, can cause the aorta to dilate (widen) or dissect (tear), placing you at increased risk for future life-threatening events.
Marfan Syndrome: Marfan Syndrome is a rare disorder that causes a defect in the body's connective tissue (which holds the body together and supports many of its structures). As a result, Marfan Syndrome affects many organ systems, including the heart and blood vessels.
Heart Valve Disease
According to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease each year.
What is it?
Heart valve disease occurs when the heart valves don't work the way they should. The defective valve may not open completely, so blood is pumped through a smaller-than-normal opening. Or, the valve may not fully close, which leads to blood leaking back through the valve when it should be closed.
A person can be born with an abnormal heart valve, a type of congenital heart defect. Also, a valve can become damaged by:
- infections, such as infective endocarditis
- rheumatic fever
- changes in valve structure in the elderly
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of heart valve disease can include:
- Shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath. You may notice this most when you're active (during your normal daily activities) or when you lie down flat in bed. You may need to sleep propped up on a few pillows to breathe easier.
- Weakness or dizziness. You may feel too weak to carry out your normal daily activities. Dizziness can also occur, and in some cases, passing out may be a symptom.
- Discomfort in your chest. You may feel a pressure or weight in your chest with activity or when going out in cold air.
- Palpitations. This may feel like a rapid heart rhythm, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats or a flip-flop feeling in your chest.
- Swelling of your ankles, feet or abdomen. This is called edema. Swelling in your belly may cause you to feel bloated.
- Rapid weight gain. A weight gain of 2 or 3 pounds in one day is possible.
Symptoms of heart valve disease do not always relate to the seriousness of your condition. You may have no symptoms at all and have severe heart valve disease, requiring prompt treatment. Or, you may have severe symptoms, yet tests may show your valve leak is not significant.
How is it diagnosed?
Your cardiologist can tell if you have heart valve disease by talking to you about your symptoms, performing a physical exam and giving you other tests.
During a physical exam, your doctor will listen to your heart to hear sounds the heart makes as the valves open and close. A murmur is a swishing sound made by blood flowing through a leaky valve. Your doctor can also tell if your heart is enlarged or if your heart rhythm is irregular.
The doctor will listen to your lungs to hear if you are retaining fluid in your lungs, which shows your heart is not able to pump as well as it should. By examining your body, the doctor can find clues about your circulation and the functioning of your other organs.
After the physical exam, the doctor may order diagnostic tests. These may include:
- Transesophageal echocardiography
- Cardiac catheterization (or angiogram)
By looking at the results, repeated over time, your doctor can also see the progress of your valve disease. This will help him or her make decisions about your treatment.
How is it treated?
Heart valve disease treatment depends on the type and severity of valve disease. There are three goals of treatment:
- Protect your valve from further damage
- Lessen symptoms
- Repair or replace valves
The diagnostic tests your cardiologist orders help to identify the location, type and extent of your heart valve disease. The results of these tests, the structure of your heart, your age and your lifestyle will help your cardiologist, surgeon and you decide what type of procedure is best.
Surgical options include heart valve repair or replacement. Valves can be repaired or replaced with traditional heart valve surgery or a minimally invasive heart valve surgery. Heart valves may also be repaired by other procedures, such as percutaneous balloon valvotomy.
Living with the disease
When you have heart valve disease, it is important to protect yourself from future heart problems, even if your valve has been repaired or replaced with surgery. Here are some tips to stay healthy:
- Know the type and extent of your heart valve disease.
- Tell all your doctors and dentist you have valve disease.
- Call your doctor if you have symptoms of an infection.
- Take good care of your teeth and gums.
- Take antibiotics before you undergo any procedure that may cause bleeding.
- Carry a wallet card that may be obtained from the American Heart Association with specific antibiotic guidelines.
- Take your medications. Your medications are used to control your symptoms and help your heart pump blood more efficiently. Follow your doctor's instructions when you take your medications.
- See your cardiologist for regular visits, even if you have no symptoms. Your appointments may be scheduled once a year or more often, if your doctor feels you need to be followed more closely.
Sources: American Heart Association and WebMD.com
Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. Heart failure occurs after the heart muscle has been damaged or weakened by another primary cause, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, or certain kinds of infections. Depending on the cause, heart failure can occur gradually, over many years, while the heart tries to compensate for its loss of function, or it may occur more quickly if a lot of the heart muscle is damaged at once.
Peripheral Artery Disease
Arteries carry blood to all the organs of your body. Therefore, any condition that damages arteries can damage the organs to which they supply blood, such as the heart or brain.
When the affected arteries are the ones that carry blood to the legs and arms, the resulting condition is called peripheral artery disease (PAD). The Medical Center of Plano offers free screenings for PAD every September.
Peripheral artery disease is similar to coronary artery disease and carotid artery disease. In PAD, fatty deposits build up along artery walls and affect blood circulation, mainly in arteries leading to the legs and feet.
In its early stages, a common symptom is cramping or fatigue in the legs and buttocks during activity. Such cramping subsides with standing still. This is called "intermittent claudication." People with PAD have a higher risk of death from stroke and heart attack due to generalized atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) and, to a lesser degree, an increased risk of blood clots.
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease is caused by a narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. This narrowing is a result of atherosclerosis – the buildup of cholesterol and other fatty substances in the arteries. When the arteries narrow, blood flow is reduced.
The reduced blood flow causes the heart muscle to receive less oxygen than it needs to function properly. This is termed ischemia. When ischemia occurs, patients typically develop angina or chest pain originating from the heart. If the blood flow is completely cut off, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) will occur, and the heart muscle will be permanently damaged.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is a form of cardiomyopathy. This is a condition in which the heart muscle thickens. As the muscle thickens, it must work harder to pump blood, which strains the heart muscle. HCM usually causes only one side of the heart to thicken, making the heart pump unevenly.