Updated 12 October 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Heart Disease?Heart disease is a term used to describe a group of conditions that affect the heart's ability to function normally. The heart is a major organ that helps pump blood throughout the body. Any structural or functional changes to the heart can affect blood movement, leading to short and long-term health problems. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death overall . The Australian Bureau of Statistics also found that 1 million Australians are living with heart disease . Those who are male and over the age of 55 were more likely to be diagnosed with this condition. Heart disease is often used for a whole range of conditions that affect the heart, including:
- Coronary heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease)
- Ischaemic heart disease (e.g. angina, heart attack, etc.)
- Heart failure
- Rheumatic heart disease
- Congenital heart disease (also known as congenital heart defects)
Heart Disease SymptomsSymptoms of heart disease can vary depending on the severity and type of condition diagnosed. It is important to pick up early signs of heart disease to receive an early diagnosis and treatment and to prevent serious health problems. Always talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any potential symptoms below.
- Feel breathless and not even getting enough air (also known as shortness of breath)
- Chest pain
- Feeling weak and/or fatigued
- Abnormal heartbeat (e.g. pounding, fluttering, fast, slow, etc. heart rate)
- Swelling around the extremities, including hands, feet and/or legs
- Pain around the neck, jaw, upper abdomen, chest and/or back
- Having a blue or grey tinge around the skin and/or lips (also known as cyanosis)
Heart Disease CausesThere are many causes of heart disease, including issues with the surrounding muscle, electrical signals and blocked blood vessels. Any one or several of these causes can negatively impact the heart to function properly. However, there are certain risk factors for heart disease which can increase the likelihood of developing these conditions, including :
- Eating an unhealthy diet
- Being sedentary or physically inactive
- Living at an unhealthy weight, especially if you're overweight or obese
- Overconsumption of alcohol
- Having other chronic health problems (e.g. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc.)
- Genetic influences (e.g. family history, ethnicity, gender, etc.)
Tests and DiagnosisTalk to your doctor if you suspect you may have any symptoms or signs of heart disease. They will be able to assess your situation and recommend testing to determine your heart health. An early diagnosis is important to help treat and prevent any future health problems.
Blood TestsBlood tests are performed to help diagnose heart conditions and find other potential causes for them. A sample of your blood will be drawn and sent to the laboratory for analysis. The most common blood test is for levels of troponin, which is elevated in the bloodstream after a heart attack . Your doctor may also look for other substances, such as fat and cholesterol levels.
Electrocardiogram (ECG)An electrocardiogram is a test performed to assess the heart's electrical activity. Leads and gel pads from an ECG machine will be placed on certain body parts to detect this electrical activity. Records of the rhythm, strength and timing of the heartbeats can help doctors determine whether there are any abnormalities or problems.
EchocardiogramAn echocardiogram uses ultrasound imaging to show your heart's muscles and valves working in real-time. Doctors will look at features, such as the size and pumping ability of the heart, to help make any potential diagnosis.
Holter MonitorA Holter monitor involves wearing a small device that detects your heart over a certain period. This small device has gel pads and leads attached to the skin and detect any heart abnormalities (e.g. rhythm, speed, etc.). This provides a longer-term outlook on the state of your heart to help doctors diagnose the problem and determine any abnormalities.
ImagingCT scans and MRI machines can produce detailed images of the heart. These images show the structure of the heart and how it works. This information will help your doctor determine whether there are any abnormalities and diagnose any potential heart conditions.
Physical TestsYour doctor may recommend that you perform a physical test, such as on a bike or treadmill. The test will examine how your heart responds to these physically demanding tasks. Abnormal heart responses could suggest damage to the blood vessels around the heart.
Heart Disease TreatmentsYour doctor may recommend treatments depending on the type and severity of your heart disease, including:
Lifestyle ChangesHealthy lifestyle changes and habits are essential for helping prevent heart disease and its progression. Your doctor may recommend consulting other health professionals, such as exercise physiologists and dietitians, to assist with this process. Examples of these lifestyle changes include:
- Eating a healthy diet (e.g. reducing saturated fats, eating more vegetables, etc.)
- Controlling your blood pressure
- Getting adequate sleep
- Regular physical activity and exercise
- Stress management
MedicineDepending on your circumstances, your doctor may prescribe medications to prevent the progression of your heart disease. Regular check-ups with your doctor may be necessary to check whether the medication is effective and monitor for any side effects.
SurgerySurgery may be necessary under some circumstances. Your cardiologist will work with your doctor to help determine a treatment plan. Examples of procedures for that heart include:
- Stent implantation
- Bypass surgery
- Pacemaker implantation
- Radiofrequency ablation
RecoveryMany instances of heart disease are considered chronic and do not have a cure. Seeking appropriate medical treatment and following healthy lifestyle habits is vital for slowing down the condition's progression.
ComplicationsHeart disease is one of the deadliest conditions in Australia. Many complications are associated with heart disease, especially without the necessary lifestyle changes and treatment. Examples of these complications include:
- Heart attacks
- Heart failure
- Cardiac arrest
Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.
To make a telehealth appointment booking, simply click on the button below.