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What is heart disease?

30 June 2015

Every hour in South Africa, five people have heart attacks, 10 people have strokes and 10 people die from heart disease and stroke, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.

While the term "heart disease" is usually used to describe the most common type of heart disease – coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease – there are many other types of heart disease. These include:

  1. Diseases of the blood vessels
  2. Diseases of the heart muscle
  3. Diseases of the heart valves
  4. Diseases of the electrical conducting system

1. Diseases of the blood vessels

Coronary heart disease (or coronary artery disease): This is the most common heart disease in the world. It's a condition in which plaque deposits block the coronary blood vessels (atherosclerosis), leading to a reduced supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Plaque consists of cholesterol and other fats that are deposited under the endothelium (lining of the arterial walls). Plaques may erode, causing a roughening of the endothelium and prone to blood clot forming, causing further narrowing, and leading eventually to angina and/or heart attacks.

Angina: Pain or discomfort in the chest that occurs when a part of the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood. It may feel like a pressing or squeezing pain, generally in the chest under the breastbone, but sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. This usually results from some form of physical exertion, when the heart has to work harder than normal. The pain often disappears with rest.

Heart attack: This occurs when an area of the heart muscle dies or is permanently damaged by a lack of blood and oxygen. It is caused by a severely narrowed or completely blocked coronary artery that keeps oxygen and nutrients from reaching heart muscle. The picture is similar to that of angina, but the pain is more severe, the duration longer, and, if not treated quickly, may lead to severe complications including death.

2. Diseases of the heart muscle

These may be the result of congenital causes, certain infections, certain drugs, hypertension, or muscle damage following coronary artery disease.

High blood pressure/hypertension (hypertensive heart disease): A blood pressure reading measures the force of blood pumped from the heart against the walls of your blood vessels. High blood pressure is diagnosed when the reading consistently exceeds 140/90. The damage results from the muscle working against sustained elevated pressure. Hypertension is asymptomatic – therefore known as the "silent killer". Symptoms only develop when the patient develops angina or heart failure.

3. Diseases of the heart valves

Rheumatic heart disease: The commonest cause of valvular heart disease in the South African context, it is caused by one or more attacks of rheumatic fever, which then damages the heart, particularly the heart valves. Rheumatic fever usually occurs in childhood, and may follow a streptococcal infection. In some cases, the infection affects the heart and may result in scarring the valves, weakening the heart muscle, or damaging the sac enclosing the heart (the pericardium).

4. Diseases of the electrical conducting system

Arrhythmias: Associated with a disorder in the rhythmic movement of the heartbeat, the heartbeat can be slow, fast or irregular. These abnormal heartbeats are caused by a short circuit in the heart's electrical system.

Any of the above mentioned causes of heart disease may result in heart failure – this means that the heart is not able to pump blood through the body as well as it should. Heart failure develops slowly over time and can have a significant impact on a persons life and ability to perform activities.

While causes for each of these types of heart disease differ, risk factors include:

  • High blood cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure/hypertension
  • Diabetes, obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Emotional stress
  • Extreme cold or heat
  • Alcohol abuse

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics can help you prevent or manage heart disease with their wide range of screening tests. These include:

  • Blood Pressure (BP) Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
  • Clicks Screening Measurements only (BP and BMI)
  • Clicks Comprehensive Screening (BP, BMI, Glucose and Cholesterol screening, plus meal and exercise plan)

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online

For more info
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa

Read More: Heart Disease Super Section