Friday, August 1, 2008

Health Care and Heart Disease

Heart Disease is one of the top killers in the U.S. today. According to CBSNews.com, coronary heart disease kills almost half a million Americans a year. According to the American Heart Association, about 62 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, which can include high blood pressure, coronary heart disease (heart attack and chest pain), stroke, birth defects of the heart and blood vessels, and congestive heart failure. Heart disease is by far the #1 killer in the U. S., although a third of those deaths could be prevented if people exercised more and followed better diets. There have been a few improvements, though, which comes from a reduction in risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, and smoking. Additionally, improvements in surgery and procedures are decreasing death rates to some degree.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease is a group of diseases of the heart and the blood vessel system in the heart. Coronary heart disease, the most common type, affects the blood vessels of the heart. It can cause angina or a heart attack. Angina is a pain in the chest that happens when the heart does not get enough blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest, but sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. Having angina means you're more likely to have a heart attack. A heart attack happens when a blood vessel is blocked for more than 20 minutes.

The American Heart Association says that some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
--Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
--Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.
--Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

The HHS also indicates certain signs of a heart attack:
--Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest for more than 20 minutes.
--Pain or discomfort lasting more than 20 minutes in other parts of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Other symptoms may include:
1.) unusual tiredness
2.) trouble sleeping
3.) problems breathing
4.) indigestion (upset stomach)
5.) anxiety (feeling uneasy or worried)

With Congestive Heart Failure, according to eDocAmerica, when the word "failure" is attached to a particular organ, e.g. kidney failure, liver failure, heart failure, etc., it conjures up thoughts of a final or terminal phase in the function of the organ. In most instances of organ "failure", however, there is a variable period of time in which the function is diminished prior to the time that the organ ceases to function altogether. This is particularly true of congestive heart failure (CHF). Depending on the cause for the heart failure, the course may be acute and severe, but typically the "failing" heart keeps working, just not as efficiently as it should. At issue is the underlying cause for the heart failure and how effectively it is managed. The most common reasons for developing CHF include:
--Coronary artery disease which results in diminished blood flow to the heart muscle.
--Heart attack with the development of "scar tissue" which interferes with the normal pumping action of the heart.
--High blood pressure which causes the heart to have to pump against higher resistance.
--Disease or deformity of the heart valves.
--Congenital heart disease
--Infection of the heart muscle or valves.

As may be expected, according to eDocAmerica, when the CHF is related to an acute event such as a heart attack or an infection, the course may be more rapid than when it occurs in association with a long-standing problem such as hypertension. In most cases, CHF is a chronic, long-term condition. A number of treatments are available that can help ease the workload of the heart and relieve symptoms. Lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery each play a role in the management of CHF. Beneficial lifestyle measures include not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, eating a diet low in saturated fat and salt, and participating in a doctor-approved exercise program. A number of medications may be used, depending on the type of heart failure and its severity. The most common of these are diuretics (to help rid the body of extra fluid), digitalis, which strengthens the heart's pumping ability, ACE inhibitors, which reduce heart enlargement and improve heart function, and beta blockers, which can reduce the workload on the heart. Since hypertension is a leading cause for the development of CHF, use of medications to control blood pressure is highly important also. When coronary artery disease is contributing to the CHF, surgical procedures to open these arteries (angioplasty, stenting and coronary bypass) may be necessary. Other surgical treatments, depending on the underlying cause for the failure, include heart valve repair or replacement, correction of congenital heart defects, and pacemaker insertion. The diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure is not synonymous with a death sentence. In most cases, CHF can be managed with improvement in symptoms and in quality of life.

There are many types of heart disease. Issues concerning heart disease are extremely important and should be diagnosed early if you feel that you are suffering from any symptoms. To not take action is life threatening. Make sure that you keep a healthy regimen and see a primary care physician on a regular basis. At some point, you may wish to take a stress test to make sure that your heart is in good shape. A healthy heart means a healthy life.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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