The 411 on Heart Diseases
Arrhythmias, or disorders of the regular rhythmic beating of the heart, are commonly experienced. As many as two million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. Arrhythmias can take place in a healthy heart and be of minimal consequence, but they may also indicate a serious problem and lead to heart disease, stroke or sudden cardiac death.
Angina Pectoris is the medical term for chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. Angina is a symptom of a condition called myocardial ischemia. It occurs when the heart muscle (myocardium) doesn’t get as much blood (hence as much oxygen,) as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart’s arteries (those that supply blood to the heart muscle) is narrowed or blocked. Insufficient blood supply is called ischemia.
Typical Angina symptoms include uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest. The discomfort may also be felt in the neck, jaw, shoulder, back or arm. Many types of chest discomfort are not related to angina, such as that caused by acid reflux (heartburn) and lung infection or inflammation.
Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis. Arteriosclerosis is the thickening and hardening of arteries. Some hardening of arteries often occurs when people grow older.
Atherosclerosis comes from the Greek words “athero” (meaning gruel or paste,) and “sclerosis” (hardness). It involves deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and other substances in the inner lining of an artery. This buildup is called plaque. It usually affects large and medium-sized arteries.
Plaques may grow large enough to significantly reduce the blood’s flow through an artery. They can also become fragile and rupture. Plaques that rupture form blood clots (thrombus) that can block blood flow or break off and travel to another part of the body (embolus). If either happens and blocks a blood vessel that feeds the heart, it causes a heart attack. If it blocks a blood vessel that feeds the brain, it causes a stroke. And if blood supply to the arms or legs is reduced, it can cause difficulty walking and eventually gangrene.