Types of Heart Problems

Heart is an important and indispensable organ of the human body. It is important because heart pumps blood that is supplied to all parts of the body. Therefore, heart diseases must be dealt with extreme care. In today’s life, heart diseases are very common and are the leading causes of death in the UK, US, Canada, Europe, India, Japan, China, Africa, Australia, Mexico, Russia, etc;. Heart diseases are a very general term and few realize that there are different types of heart problems. They can be categorized as:

Coronary Heart Diseases

Too much of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood leads to plaque deposits on the wall of the arteries, and the problems that are caused due to this condition are referred as coronary heart diseases. Accumulation of plaque causes blockage in the arteriesa condition called atherosclerosis. Due to the deposits, arteries which were initially elastic become hard, narrow and rigid causing the blood flow to be restricted. As a result, oxygen and other vital nutrients required by the heart to function properly do not reach the heart and get starved. This results in an immense amount of pressure on the heart, resulting in angina pectoris. The major factors leading to this condition are hypertension, imbalanced blood sugar and cholesterol levels, stress, and hereditary factors.

Heart Attack

Myocardial infarction or heart attack is medically defined as a permanent damage to the heart muscle. While myo means muscle, infarction means to death of tissue due to lack of blood supply. Under normal conditions, the coronary arteries supply the heart with blood rich in oxygen. Deposits of fats and plaques along the walls of these arteries cause the arteries to become narrow, rigid and hard. When these plaque deposits crack, blood platelets which aid in clotting come to the rescue. When such blood clots block the arteries, the heart gets starved for oxygen. This causes death of the heart muscles and hence, permanent damage resulting in heart attack. Apart from plaque deposits, there are other causes for heart attack like ischemia or reduction in supply of blood to the heart muscles, injury of the heart muscles, etc.

Cardiomegaly

Cardiomegaly or an enlarged heart is actually a response of the heart towards a damaged heart muscle. High blood pressure is the main cause of this condition. However, there can be other causes too. An enlarged heart may not be able to effectively pump blood, resulting in congestive heart failure. The heart functions normally despite damage up to a threshold. The ability of the heart to pump blood declines as the enlargement progresses. The most common causes of cardiomegaly are blockage of blood supply to the heart and high blood pressure. Other causes are:

An abnormal heart valve
Kidney disease
Viral infection in the heart
Peripartum cardiomyopathy (development of an enlarged heart around the time of delivery)
Drug and alcohol abuse
HIV infections
Arrhythmia

Our heartbeats are rhythmic or regular. Arrhythmia, as the name suggests, is a condition wherein our heartbeats are arrhythmic or irregular. However, the terms ‘arrhythmia’ and ‘irregular’ heartbeats are not synonymous, \.and they both need not occur together. Arrhythmia can occur with slow, rapid or even normal heart rates. There are many causes of arrhythmia like:

Imbalance in the level of electrolytes (sodium or potassium) in the blood
Injury from a heart attack
Coronary artery disease
Changes in heart muscles
Post-surgical healing
Irregular heart beats can also occur in healthy hearts under conditions of stress, mental strain or physical exertion. This does not mean that the person is suffering from arrhythmia.

Valvular Heart Disorders

The heart has four valves, viz, aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valve. Normal functioning of these valves ensures that the blood flow is regular and that the pressure is maintained. In valvular heart problems, the valves become narrow and hard. As a result, they are unable to open or close fully. This results in leakage and blood pooling, which cause the heart muscles to enlarge and thicken, resulting in loss of efficiency and elasticity of the muscles.

Marfan Syndrome

Connective tissues in the body provide support, strength and elasticity to the cartilage, tendons, blood vessels, heart valves and other vital parts of the body. When a person suffers from Marfan Syndrome, the connective tissue lacks the ability to provide strength owing to its chemical composition. It is a life-threatening genetic disorder affecting the eyes, bones, lungs, skin and nervous system, in addition to the blood vessels and heart. This disorder is caused by a change in the genetic make-up of the individual. The gene responsible for making fibrillin in the body undergoes a slight change in Marfan syndrome. Fibrillin is a component of the connective tissue that helps in its strength and elasticity. Owing to the change in genetic make-up, the body is unable to secrete fibrillin and hence, the heart disorder.

Congenital Heart Disease

This is the most common type of birth defect causing maximum number of deaths among newborns within the first year of their birth. They generally refer to defects in the structure of the heart at birth. These defects involve the interiors of the heart such as valves, inner walls, arteries or veins. Such defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart. The symptoms range from being none to severe life-threatening ones. People with congenital heart defects need special care throughout their lives.

Cardiomyopathy

Weakening or a change in the structure of the heart muscle owing to insufficient pumping of the heart is called cardiomyopathy. Generally, the walls of the heart thicken causing it to enlarge and become rigid. As a result, the heart is unable to pump properly and its regular functioning gets affected. This leads to either heart failure or arrhythmia. Some of the major causes of cardiomyopathy are genetic defects, consumption of alcohol, hypertension and viral infections.

Myocarditis

Myocarditis is an unusual inflammation of the heart muscles caused by bacterial, fungal or viral infections. Normally, whenever there is an infection in our body, specialized cells called White Blood Corpuscles (WBCs) are produced in our body to fight the infections. This is termed as ‘immune response’. In case of an infection in the heart, these WBCs enter the heart muscles in response to the foreign bodies. The chemicals produced during this immune response are harmful for a delicate organ like heart. As a result, the heart grows thick, swollen and gradually becomes weak. The symptoms produced in this case are fever and swelling of the limbs. Since these are not related to a heart problem, it is easy to get confused.

All the above types of heart problems must be diagnosed and treated immediately. In some cases like Marfan Syndrome or congenital heart defects, lifelong treatment is required for a healthy life.

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