Congenital heart conditions are present at birth, but may not be detected until an individual reaches adulthood. The condition can manifest as a leaky heart valve, malformations in the walls that separate the heart chambers or other heart problems. These conditions do not always require treatment.
Cardiomyopathy involves changes in the heart muscle that may interfere with its ability to pump effectively. High blood pressure, heart valve disease and heart failure are chronic conditions that result from cardiomyopathy.
When electrical impulses become erratic, the heart may race, slow down, or quiver. This arrhythmia usually passes quickly, but some types diminish the heart’s efficiency, which stresses the body’s ability to function properly. Patients should be advised to inform their physician when they notice their heart is beating abnormally.
Similar to, but not the same as, a heart attack, sudden cardiac death (SCD) accounts for half of all heart disease deaths in the United States. SCD occurs when the heart beats irregularly and dangerously fast. The heart’s pumping chambers do not pump blood out to the body, which if not addressed to return to a regular rhythm, can cause death.
There are widely held public misconceptions about heart failure. Some people confuse it with other cardiac-related illnesses, such as myocardial infarction or cardiac arrest, both of which can cause heart failure.
In reality, heart failure causes the heart to work harder to meet the body’s demands. Unable to achieve that aim, blood may back up in other areas of the body, such as the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, arms and legs.
Heart failure is typically a chronic condition. Early symptoms may be too mild to affect everyday life, yet it is possible that long-term treatment can keep symptoms under control.
Patients with heart failure may develop shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling in ankles, feet, legs, and abdomen.
Coronary artery disease, or CAD, is the prelude to a heart attack. This occurs when a sticky plaque builds inside the coronary arteries, causing it to become smaller and restricting blood flow.
Angina or recurring chest pains are early signs of CAD. But sometimes the outward symptoms are too subtle to be detected or to raise the necessary concern that would compel a patient to consult a physician.
“Unfortunately, many people don’t know they have CAD until they experience a heart attack,” says Kinston Cardiology’s Dr. Stephanie Martin.
A heart attack occurs when there is a sudden interruption in the heart’s blood supply caused by a blockage in the coronary arteries, which carry blood to the heart muscle. This lack of blood flow quickly damages the heart muscle, causing tissue to die. Immediate emergency intervention has dramatically helped reduce the number of deaths from heart attacks.
Heart attack symptoms may not always be severe. They can include pain or pressure in the chest, discomfort that spreads to the back, jaw, throat or arm, and feelings of nausea, indigestion or heartburn. Weakness, anxiety, shortness of breath and rapid or irregular heartbeats also may be experienced.
Women don’t always feel chest pain with a heart attack. They are also more likely than men to have heartburn, loss of appetite, tiredness or weakness, coughing and heart flutters.
Studies have shown that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.
Conditions may include coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease. Smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, an unhealthy weight and lack of exercise increase the risks. Genetics may predispose certain individuals to heart disease, which may be aggravated by various other risk factors, such as diet.
“People generally think of a heart attack, when they hear of heart disease; but many conditions, such as coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia and heart failure, can cause chest pain, palpitations or shortness of breath,” says Dr. Kirollos.
These symptoms should not be ignored. The longer treatment is postponed, the greater the risk of heart damage, which could ultimately lead to death.
According to Dr. Kirollos, after examining a patient for any type of heart disease, further imaging procedures may be needed for additional diagnosis. He adds that early intervention can reduce the risk of permanent damage or death.
“At Kinston Cardiology, we evaluate the patient during a thorough cardiac physical examination, and if needed, we perform other tests like echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), stress test, monitoring the heart rhythm and ultrasound of the arteries to detect blockages before it causes problems,” says Dr. Kirollos.
The following is a review of available diagnostic technologies.
One form of non-invasive testing is the electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG). It is a painless test where electrodes are placed on the skin to record the heart’s activity. The test provides information about a patient’s heart rhythm, which may also reveal damage to the heart muscle, as well as unusual conditions, such as an enlarged heart. The results can also be compared to future EKGs to track changes in the condition of the heart.
Stress tests measure whether the heart muscle is receiving an adequate supply of blood. In an exercise stress test, patients walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. The intensity of the exertion is safely adjusted to increase the difficulty of the exercise. As this happens, a medical technician is closely monitoring the patient’s EKG, heart rate and blood pressure.
A portable Holter heart rhythm recorder is used to measure heart performance when a heart rhythm problem is suspected. It is worn by a patient over a period of one to two days. The Holter monitor records a snapshot of the heart’s continuous electrical activity throughout the day and night. “In addition to a patient wearing the monitor, we ask them to keep a log of the activities they do and to note any symptoms and when they occur,” said Dr. Gahlot.
A chest X-ray may be used to identify abnormalities of the heart, lungs and chest bones.
The ultrasound waves generated by echocardiogram examine the chambers and valves of the heart. This test is useful for diagnosing and evaluating many types of heart disease, as well as treatment effectiveness.
Cardiac Computed Tomography
Cardiac computerized tomography, or cardiac CT, looks at detailed three-dimensional images of the heart and its blood vessels. This test is useful for evaluating plaque buildup in the coronary arteries and heart valve problems.
Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive procedure that involves guiding a catheter through a blood vessel in a patient’s arm or leg to the coronary arteries. Injected dye is shown on X-ray, enabling the doctor to determine the extent and severity of any blockages. The condition may then be treated using angioplasty or stenting during this procedure.
“Medications may be used to treat the heart condition or to prevent progression of problems,” says Dr. Kirollos. “If needed, we perform invasive cardiac procedures such as cardiac catheterization, pacemaker placement and internal defibrillator placement.”
“We invite cardiac patients to discuss their cardiac rehab program with us,” says Dr. Gahlot. Patients develop the will to have life style change through the program.
Scientific studies have proven that eating well and taking supplements have positive influences for the human body to heal damage to the cardiovascular system. Lifestyle changes also can make a big difference in improving one’s heart condition. They include quitting smoking, exercising for 30 minutes most days of the week, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screenings.
“In addition to treating the disease, we educate our patients – especially those who are at increased risk – about preventative measures,” says Dr. Kirollos. “Communicating with our patients plays an integral part in helping them to successfully recover from heart-related health problems.”