Matters of the heart – Know your risk factors for heart disease

Matters of the heart – Know your risk factors for heart disease

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S. and around the world.

Heart disease is a broad classification that encompasses many different ailments. It is important for everyone, especially adults, to have a basic understanding of the following ailments and recognize any risk factors they may have. Knowing more can help everyone change certain habits and lifestyles to help avoid these disorders and live a longer, healthier life.

Heart Attack

It is estimated that someone in the U.S. has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Also known as myocardial infarction, a heart attack happens when the heart muscle does not get a sufficient amount of oxygen to operate. This occurs when oxygenated blood is significantly reduced or stops entirely from traveling to the heart. Often the cause is arteriosclerosis, which is a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the coronary arteries. Blood clots can also form around the plaque, which can then slow and even block the blood flow, which causes a heart attack.

The following is a list of risk factors for a heart attack and other heart diseases:

  • Age 65 and above
  • Diabetes
  • Excess weight
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Prior heart attack
  • Tobacco use

True to its name, a silent heart attack has very few symptoms. You may not experience chest pain or shortness of breath. Instead, you may think that you have heartburn, the flu, or perhaps a strained chest muscle. But like any heart attack, a silent heart attack involves a blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle.


A stroke is considered a heart disease because a stroke involves the flow of blood. However, the problem is not about blood flow to the heart, but to the brain. When there is a blockage in a blood vessel that prevents blood from reaching the brain, it is called an Ischemic stroke. Most strokes (87%) are ischemic strokes. Parts of the brain can suffer damage or die completely if not treated quickly after the flow of blood and oxygen stops.

Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure, or simply heart failure, refers to the heart muscle not working as it should. Though the word “failure” is used in the name, it does not mean the heart has completely stopped beating. Blood is still pumping through the heart muscle, but not at a high enough rate and volume that the body needs to function. Heart failure that goes untreated can cause fatigue and shortness of breath and can greatly interfere with normal activities like climbing stairs and walking.


An arrhythmia is any abnormal rhythm of the heart. The rhythm could be too fast, too slow, or with an irregular beat. Without proper rhythm, the heart doesn't work as efficiently. Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, is the most commonly treated form of arrhythmia. A heart with an arrhythmia may not be able to pump sufficient amounts of blood and oxygen to the body’s organs.

Heart Valve Complications

Complications in heart valves, like arrhythmias, can cover a variety of different abnormalities. Like the arteries that deliver and take away oxygenated blood to the heart, the valves of a heart must also be working correctly. When the valves don’t open enough to allow blood to flow normally, this condition is called stenosis. When the valves in the heart don't close correctly and allow blood to leak through, that is called regurgitation. The heart’s arteries and valves need to operate properly to avoid life-changing complications, even death.

Take Action

If you think that you are having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

If you or someone you know has some of the risk factors or is experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider as soon as you can. They can review your symptoms and health history and conduct a physical exam to evaluate your risk of heart disease.