Q. Can you define heart disease?
A. The definition of heart disease as a term may describe many maladies including arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis (artery disease or hardening of the arteries), congestive heart failure, valve problems. Other heart diseases or heart issues may result from other diseases such as heart trouble related to rheumatic fever. In this particular FAQ we will concentrate on heart artery disease sometimes called hardening of the arteries and medically referred to as atherosclerosis. So while you should remember how the dictionary may define heart disease, as used below in this FAQ we will used the limited definition specifically referring to heart disease from blockage in arteries leading to the heart.
Q. What happens in the body with heart artery disease?
A. Plaque builds up in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart, then build up of the plaque causes a narrowing of the arteries restricting blood flow. If the restriction becomes significant enough it can affect a personís ability to exert themselves and might lead to a heart attack.
Q. Is heart disease contagious?
Q. Is heart artery disease inherited?
A. It can be, those with a family history of heart disease may have a predisposition to heart disease as well.
Q. If you have heart disease under age 60 who should you alert?
A. All first degree family members, like brothers, sisters and children so they can be screened for cholesterol, blood pressure and to make sure their doctors are aware and can pay more attention to potential heart disease symptoms.
Q. If you live with heart disease yourself who should you tell?
A. First you should make sure that those who live with you and your primary caretakers know. Next you should let other treating physicians know, including your dentist.
Q. Is there anything the people around me should know to do?
A. Those close to people living with heart disease should know where the patientís nitro is and how to administer it (in cases where a doctor prescribed nitro for the person with the heart disease). All people living with heart disease patients should know how to call 911, including children. For kids this may just involve knowing how to dial 911 if the person has a heart attack, for adults they also need to understand what do in the event a heart disease patient displays any signs of chest pain. Read more on that in our hospitalization FAQ. Everyone, especially those living with a heart disease patient should learn CPR.
Q. How can you detect heart artery disease?
A. There are many tests read more in our Operations and Tests FAQ.
Q. Who should get tests for heart disease?
A. Any person displaying chest pain, anyone with family history of heart disease, anyone over 65. for more read the Symptoms FAQ and if you fear you see signs of a heart attack get checked. Even if your alleged heart disease symptoms turn out to be nothing, carving out part of your busy day to check them out will not take too much time or effort. Doctors want you to follow up on potential heart attack symptoms and will not resent the fact that you may have used their time on something that had nothing to do with heart disease. On the other hand, if you ignore heart disease signs because you figure there is no way you could have a heart attack or because you can't be bothered and you do have heart disease, a catastrophic heart attack could result. Think of it this way: If you think you may have a heart problem and you see a doctor who says you were wrong, you made a small mistake, if you ignore a real heart problem you made a HUGE mistake.
Q. Can anything reverse plaque buildup associated with heart artery disease?
A. Lowering cholesterol has been show to reverse plaque accumulation.
Q. Is heart artery disease always fatal?
A. No, it is not always fatal; you can live with a certain level of blockage without it affecting your life at all. On the other hand, if you ignore heart artery disease, especially a serious case, the blockage may eventually build to the point where tragedy might occur. People with any heart disease must never forget sometimes with even a low level of the disease a major event can occur because sometimes the plaque becomes unstable, ruptures and causes complete heart artery blockage.
Q. Can you live a normal life with some level of plaque buildup?
A. Yes, it depends on your level of activity; many people live with low levels of plaque lining their arteries and never become aware they have any heart disease at all. Generally blockage levels reaching as much as 10%-20% might not be noticed by a normal person.
Q. What kind of symptoms might someone feel as heart artery disease started to affect them?
A. You may never feel anything. That defines part of the problem with this type of heart disease; you may not experience symptoms until the disease has progressed quite far along. Unfortunately death sometimes marks the first symptom. Early signs, if they do present themselves, may include fatigue, specifically increased fatigue with exertion, shortness of breath, especially with physical effort, and sometimes chest pain which may be mistaken for heartburn. For more serious symptom as the disease progresses see the heart attack symptoms FAQ.
Q. They call this hardening of the arteries; do the heart arteries really get hard like rock?
A. Eventually, yes the plaque within the heart arteries gets fairly hard but more like coral than rock.
Q. Does plaque build up in other places besides heart arteries?
A. Yes anywhere you have blood vessels. Plaque buildup in arteries providing blood flow to the brain may lead to a stroke. In the arteries to the lower extremities you may develop peripheral vascular disease more specifically called claudication which causes leg pain predominantly in the calf. Buildup in arteries supplying blood to the kidneys can cause kidney disease, and the similar problems may occur with plaque inhibiting blood flow to any of the major organs.
Q. At what age does heart artery disease start?
A. Much earlier than most people think, depending on diet and family history it may start as early as age 10.
Q. What does heart artery disease look like?
A. Look at this image below and you can see the way plaque buildup blocks the artery to the point that it restricts natural blood flow.
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