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Cardiology

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CardiologyCardiology is the branch of medicine that deals with the study and treatment of diseases and abnormalities of the heart and arteries.  Cardiologists research, diagnose and treat heart injuries and diseases as well as their causes.

An estimated one out of every three adults in the US experiences some form of heart disease in their lifetime. As a person’s age increases, so does their risk for heart disease. Many problems associated with heart disease are related to a condition called atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease which occurs when a waxy substance called plaque builds up in the arteries. This buildup of plaque hardens and causes the arteries to narrow. When the arteries are narrowed, it is harder for blood to flow through them. If the blood cannot flow freely, it can often lead to a blood clot which can stop the flow of blood entirely. When the blood stops flowing, it can lead to angina (chest pain), heart attack or stroke. Angina occurs when the heart muscle is not receiving enough blood. If a heart attack occurs, the blood flow is completely cut off and the part of the heart that isn’t receiving blood begins to die.

Risk factors for heart attack include:

Controllable Medical Factors

Controllable Lifestyle Factors

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  •  Atrial Fibrillation
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Circulation Problems
  • High Cholesterol or Triglyceride Levels
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol Use
  • Tobacco Use
  • Illegal Drug Use
  • Stress
  •  Age
  • Family History

 

Blood clots like those of a heart attack can also be the cause of a stroke. The most common type of stroke called an ischemic stroke happens when there is a clot in the blood vessels that feed blood to the brain. Like the heart, when the blood flow is cut off to the brain, cells in brain begin to die. The result of a stroke often means that a person will not be able to carry on the regular daily activities of living such as walking or talking. While some times the damage can be reversed, many times it cannot and the person may experience issues such as vascular dementia.

There are a number of controllable and uncontrollable risk factors for stroke which include:

Controllable Medical Factors

Controllable Lifestyle Factors

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Circulation Problems
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol Use
  • Tobacco Use
  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Family History
  • Fibromuscular Dysplasia
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Hole in the Heart (Patent Foramen Ovale)
  • Previous Stroke or TIA

 

Additionally, some other types of cardiovascular disease that are common in seniors include:

Heart failure, also referred to as congestive heart failure. When a person has heart failure, their heart does not pump blood as well as it should. When this occurs, the body does not receive enough blood or oxygen to function properly. Heart failure tends to get worse if left untreated. Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) can increase the risk of developing heart failure. When the pressure in the blood vessels increases too much, the heart must work even harder to pump blood throughout the body. Over time, the chambers of the heart get larger and weaker, which can result in heart failure. Heart failure may be treated with lifestyle changes, medications and/or surgery. Other conditions that can lead to heart failure are:

  • coronary artery disease
  • severe lung disease
  • sleep apnea
  • diabetes (link).
  • heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • abnormal heart valves
  • heart muscle disease (dilated and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) or inflammation (myocarditis)
  • congenital (present at birth) heart disease

Arrhythmia occurs when there is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. Arrhythmias can happen when the heart beats too fast, too slow or irregularly.  When a heart beats too slowly, it is referred to as Bradycardia. Bradycardia generally occurs when a person’s heart rate is below 60 beats per minute. When a heart beats too fast, this is called Tachycardia. Tachycardia occurs when a person’s heart rate is above 100 beats per minute. If a heart beats irregularly, this is known as atrial fibrillation (Afib or AF). Atrial fibrillation happens when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, causing the heart to quiver instead of beat. If the heart quivers and does not beat, it cannot effectively pump blood through the body. An abnormal rhythm of the heart can affect how the heart functions and even cause blood clots. Arrhythmia can result in not getting enough blood or oxygen for the body to function correctly which can lead to other heart conditions. Arrhythmias may be treated with medications, ablation, a pacemaker or cardiac defibrillation.  Conditions that can lead to arrhythmias are:

  • heart attack (myocardial infarction)
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • other chronic medical problems such as diabetes (link), asthma and thyroid issues
  • certain cardiac and arrhythmia medications
  • alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs
  • congenital heart defects

Heart valve problems. The heart has four chambers in it, two upper chambers and two lower chambers. Blood is pumped into the chambers by heart valves. There are four heart valves, one for each chamber. The heart valves allow blood to flow in only one direction at a time by opening and closing their flaps. If they are working properly, the flaps will open and close fully. However, heart valves don’t always work like they should. When the heart valves don’t open enough to allow blood to flow in to the chambers, this is called stenosis. When heart valves don’t close properly and allow blood to leak into the chambers, this is called regurgitation. When the valve’s flaps bulge and slip forward or down (prolapse) in to the upper chambers it is called mitral valve prolapse. If a mitral valve prolapse happens, the flaps may not close properly allowing blood to flow backwards through them. Treatments for abnormal heart valves may include medication or heart valve surgery.

Some cause of heart valve problems are:

  • congenital heart defect of the valves
  • changes in valve structure due to aging
  • rheumatic fever
  • infections that cause infective endocarditis

 

For more information, visit:

http://www.heart.org

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120

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