Heart disease is an umbrella term used for multiple conditions affecting the heart. It is the leading cause of death in Australia despite mortality rates dramatically decreasing in the last decade. Heart disease may lead to ongoing chronic health conditions requiring long-term or life-long care. Examples of heart disease include:
Coronary artery disease
Pumping of the heart is controlled by the heart’s own electrical conduction system. When the electrical activity of the heart is affected, the heartbeat can become too slow (bradycardia), too fast (tachycardia), or irregular. This is called an arrhythmia. Symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Palpitation or racing heart
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD):
CAD is a chronic disease which affects the blood vessels to the heart. These vessels become clogged and narrow due to a build-up of plaque consisting of cholesterol, fat, and other materials. This process is referred to as atherosclerosis. When this occurs, blood flow to the heart is reduced. This can lead to angina which is characterised by chest pain, and tightness and pressure in the chest or elsewhere in the body. CAD may also lead to a heart attack requiring immediate medical attention.
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is damaged causing it to pump ineffectively. This may cause the heart to become enlarged, weaker, or stiffer. Symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Reduced exercise tolerance
Swelling oedema in the legs and feet
Difficulty lying flat
The heart consists of four valves which open and close allowing blood to flow in one direction through the different chambers and out of the heart. Disease or damage to these valves can affect their ability to open and close effectively. When this occurs, one may experience chest pain and/or shortness of breath.
Preventing heart disease:
While some incidences of heart disease are caused by non-modifiable risk factors, many cases can be prevented by making lifestyle changes to reduce risk factors. See the table below to see which risk factors can be modified or reduced.
To reduce modifiable risk factors, it is important to:
Visit your GP regularly, and especially if you have risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
Eat a well balanced diet low in saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Exercise regularly. Aim for 30-minutes of activity daily.
Stop smoking and reduce alcohol intake.
Reduce stressors and maintain a healthy sleeping pattern.
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