Diseases and conditions

Atherosclerosis / Heart Disease

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Atherosclerosis / Heart Disease

What is heart disease / cardiovascular disease (CVD):

Heart disease refers to a range of conditions that can cause disorders in the heart. Various conditions fall under the umbrella of heart disease, such as coronary artery disease, problems in the heart rhythm (arrhythmia), and heart deformities you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others. Check our section about different heart disease types. You can also refer to this complete guide about heart diseases.

The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with the term "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels involving narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or stroke.

CVD is mostly associated with atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of plaque that consists mainly of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances.

This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through them. This can lead to the formation of blood clots, which block blood flow to the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Western conventional medicine does not have a cure for heart disease yet. Doctors usually prescribe medications, and in extreme cases, present surgical options to treat heart disease. 

Most doctors recommend that people adopt healthy lifestyle choices like changing their eating habits, avoiding fatty or sugary foods, and maintaining a regular exercise routine to prevent heart disease. 

Western conventional medicine does not have a cure for heart disease yet. Doctors usually prescribe medications, and in extreme cases, present surgical options to treat heart disease.

Most doctors recommend that people adopt healthy lifestyle choices like changing their eating habits, avoiding fatty or sugary foods, and maintaining a regular exercise routine to prevent heart disease.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that heart disease leads to 1 in 4 deaths in the United States each year. The prevalence of heart disease in the United States is due to people’s unhealthy lifestyles and poor dietary choices.

History of heart disease:

The first recorded cases of heart disease date back 3,500 years ago. This discovery was made in 2009, when a group of researchers conducted a scan on mummies from ancient Egypt and found out that 9 out of the 16 Egyptian mummies had atherosclerosis. According to the American Heart Association, the disease spread among the ancient Egyptians was due to poor diet and high consumption of fatty meats.

In 1768, William Heberden first mentioned a condition called angina or tightness in the chest. At the time, people believed that angina was a condition related to blood circulation in the coronary arteries.

Later on, Sir William Osler worked on angina and he was the first physician to indicate that angina was a syndrome rather than a disease in itself.

The 1900s witnessed a gradual improvement in the understanding of heart disease. For instance, in 1912, James Herrick, an American cardiologist, concluded that angina caused the gradual narrowing of the coronary arteries.

In 1915, a group of doctors and social workers organized the Association for the Prevention and Relief of Heart Disease in New York City.

In 1924, multiple cardiologists came together to form the American Heart Association (AHA). As there was so little information about heart disease back then, these doctors were determined to learn more about the condition.

In 1958, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic was able to produce high-quality diagnostic images of the coronary arteries.  For the first time, this technique made it possible to have an accurate diagnosis of coronary artery disease.

In the 1960s and 1970s, new surgical techniques began to develop. Cardiologists conducted bypass surgeries in which they redirect blood flow around a blocked artery.

In 1986, another surgical technique was discovered when two cardiologists used a coronary stent for the first time. They used the stent as a scaffold to avoid the risk of the coronary artery closing.

Today, with the help of technology, bypass surgeries are relatively safe. Open heart operations have a success rate of around 97%.

Cardiologists can also better predict the risks of a heart disease ahead of time by using advanced diagnostic tools like 3D imaging.  3D imaging permits doctors to examine the heart in three dimensions, which allows them to better assess the extent of the problem.

Atherosclerosis causes:

There are several leading causes for cardiovascular disease. These include:

1. Overweight or obese: being overweight increases the risk of heart disease because too much fat stimulates the formation of blood clots in the arteries. This can cause them to become narrower, causing atherosclerosis.

2. High blood pressure: high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease because it puts additional pressure on the walls of the arteries. Over time, this pressure can damage the coronary arteries, making them more susceptible to the narrowing and build-up of plaque associated with atherosclerosis.

3. High cholesterol: having high levels of cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease since it causes the development of fatty deposits in the arteries. As a result, these deposits grow along the walls of the arteries, leaving the arteries less elastic and narrower. The fatty deposits may interfere with the blood flow through the arteries, increasing the risk of atherosclerosis.

4. Inflammation: inflammation increases the risk of heart disease because it causes plaque accumulation inside the coronary arteries leading to the narrowing and blockage of the blood vessels.

Cardio vascular disease risk factors:

There are several factors that may increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Some of these include:

1- Diabetes: people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis because high levels of glucose in the blood can damage the blood vessels. When the body does not utilize blood sugar properly and its levels remain high, the glucose can stick to the blood cells and build up in the arteries.

Diabetic people might have a higher risk of developing heart diseases because of a deficiency in a specific enzyme. This enzyme, called extracellular signal-regulated kinase 5 (ERK-5), is responsible for blood vessel dilation. Therefore, people with an ERK-5 deficiency may have narrower arteries. It also blocks inflammatory immune cells from reaching the diseased parts of the arteries. An ERK-5 deficiency leaves the arteries unprotected and more vulnerable to atherosclerosis.

2- Aging: as people age, so do the arteries. They become less elastic, making it harder for blood to flow through them. Consequently, aging may cause atherosclerosis. According to U.S. statistics, the lifetime risk of atherosclerosis at age 40 is 48.6% for men and 31.7% for women. However, the risk of developing coronary heart disease before age 40 years is low.

3- Smoking: Light cigarette, pipe, and cigar smokers run an increased risk for atherosclerosis and sudden coronary death.  Even passive smoking can increase the possibility of atherosclerosis. People who have been exposed to cigarette smoke for a period of 20 minutes up to 8 hours can have decreased ability of the arteries to receive and process oxygen.

4- Lack of exercise: Lack of physical activity has been shown to be a risk factor for atherosclerosis because less active and less fit people have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and other heart related problems.

Cardio vascular disease symptoms:

The symptoms of atherosclerosis may not appear until the narrowed coronary arteries become blocked and severely obstruct blood flow to the heart. But atherosclerosis can start developing decades before symptoms arrive

The symptoms include:

a. chest pain

b. shortness of breath

c. tiredness

d. weakness in the muscles of the legs due to lack of circulation

e. pain in the legs, arms, and anywhere else that has a blocked artery

f. dizziness

g. sweating

h. heartburn

i. stomachache

Watch the video to learn about a heart attack symptoms and how it happens.

Cardio vascular disease diagnosis:

To diagnose atherosclerosis, the doctor first needs to take the patient’s medical history. By asking the patient questions about his/her medical history, the doctor would be able to check if the patient is at risk of developing atherosclerosis.

After obtaining the medical history, doctors may proceed with diagnostic tests that might include any, or a combination of, the following:

- Blood tests: blood tests check the levels of certain fats, cholesterol, and sugar in the blood. Abnormal test results may indicate risk factors for atherosclerosis.

- EKG (Electrocardiogram): an EKG is a simple test that records the heart’s electrical activity. It shows how fast the heart is beating and whether it has a regular rhythm.  An EKG also can indicate if a person has had a heart attack previously or if he or she is currently having one.

- Chest X-ray: a chest X-ray takes a picture of the organs and structures inside the chest, including the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. A chest X-ray can also reveal signs of heart failure.

- Ankle/Brachial index: this test looks at the blood pressure in the patient’s ankle and compares it to the blood pressure in the arm to see how well the blood is flowing throughout the patient’s body.

- Echocardiography: this test uses sound waves to create a moving image of the heart and provides information about the heart’s size and shape. It indicates how well the heart’s chambers and valves are working. An echocardiogram can also identify areas of poor blood flow to the heart, areas of the heart muscle that aren’t contracting normally, and previous injury to the heart muscle caused by poor blood flow.

- Computed Tomography Scan: a computed tomography, or CT, scan creates computer-generated images of the heart, brain, or other areas of the body. It can often show the hardening and narrowing of large arteries.

- Angiography: an angiography is a test that uses dye and special x-rays called angiograms to show the insides of the arteries. It can reveal whether or not plaque is blocking the arteries, and how severe the blockage is. Accordingly, the doctor injects a dye that is visible on an x-ray into the arteries. Looking at the angiogram, it becomes possible to see the flow of blood through the arteries and assess if there is any damage to the heart or arteries.

Natural treatments for cardiovascular disease (heart disease):

Use Aposbook.com to find all the natural solutions for heart disease (atherosclerosis) or any other health condition you wish to know about.

There are several solutions that can help treat and prevent atherosclerosis naturally. These natural solutions can stop the development of the disease by addressing the main risk factors such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Below is a list of some of the main natural solutions:

1. Herbs: some herbs showed positive results in the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis. These herbs work on lowering lipid levels in the blood, preventing plaque accumulation, and providing anti-inflammatory effects.

2. Diets: a healthy diet can control the levels of cholesterol and fats in the blood vessels. Having a normal level of cholesterol in the blood prevents the accumulation of plaques inside the arteries. Some diets also are effective for lowering blood pressure, which damages the arteries and causes atherosclerosis.

3. Nutritional supplements: some nutritional supplements such as Omega fatty acids, can help fight the accumulation of plaque inside the arteries. This might prevent the further development of atherosclerosis

Medical treatment for heart disease:

Atherosclerosis can be diagnosed in its early stages and may be treated by medications or surgery. The medications mentioned below may stop the development of the condition or prevent a heart attack or stroke from occurring.

1. Statin drugs: these drugs block the enzymes that produce cholesterol. Lowering cholesterol levels can prevent the blockage of arteries and stop the progression of atherosclerosis.

2. ACE inhibitors: these drugs target the inhibition of an enzyme that constricts the arteries and results in increased blood pressure. Taking those inhibitors lowers blood pressure that destroys the arteries and helps overcome arterial constriction that is associated with atherosclerosis.

In extreme cases, the medications may be ineffective in treating heart problems, particularly if the condition is advanced. In that case, doctors may want to perform a surgery to widen the narrowed arteries. Some of the most common surgeries include:

- Angioplasty: surgeons use a balloon catheter to widen narrowed arteries that could be interfering with blood flow to the rest of the body.

- Coronary artery bypass: surgeons take an artery from the leg, arm, or chest and connect it to the heart, bypassing the blocked artery. This permits the passage of blood to the blocked part of the heart.

- Stent placement: surgeons take a small tube and insert it into the body during the surgery to prevent the coronary artery from closing. There are two types of stents, those that dissolve in the body and those that are permanent, made of metal mesh.  Nowadays, it is the most common surgery used to treat heart disease.