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5 Heart Problems You Should Know About

Visiting the doctor only after somethings goes wrong is a big mistake. Learn more in our heart health pictures.

If you commute to work or school by public transportation, you've probably had to run to catch a bus or a train at some point. Sometimes, the bus stops, and you're able to board, sweaty and disheveled. Other times, it's just too late, and you miss your train. Ideally, you'd be at the transit stop, money in hand, ready to go when the bus or train arrives.

Too often, we don't go to the doctor until something is wrong with us. With some heart conditions, waiting until symptoms show up before seeing a doctor is akin to leaving your house after you see the bus pass by -- it may be too late to address the problem. The best way to treat a heart condition is when it's in an early stage, or before it even happens at all, which you can do by making lifestyle changes that lessen your chances of having a problem in the first place.

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The first step to making your bus or train on time is knowing what time it arrives or departs. Knowledge is also the first step when it comes to stopping a heart problem in its tracks. In this article, we'll explore five conditions that you should understand.

Coronary heart disease is an umbrella term; it encompasses many ailments that can occur to the heart and the blood vessels. It includes diseases of the arteries, such as arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), as well as some conditions we've already discussed, such as arrhythmias and congenital defects. Angina, which occurs when the heart doesn't get enough blood and causes chest pains, is a part of coronary heart disease, as is a heart attack.

Let's discuss that last one -- heart attack. Heart attacks occur when a clot or a blockage obstructs blood flow to the heart. While movies and television shows make heart attacks seem like grand, theatrical events, they're not always so easy to recognize. Discomfort in the chest is the major symptom, but it's also possible to feel pain in the arms, back, neck and stomach (women in particular tend to exhibit these non-traditional symptoms). Other symptoms of a heart attack include shortness of breath, excessive sweating and nausea.

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Heart conditions may sound scary, but we've got lots more information about risk factors and treatments. When it comes to your heart, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way, so start clicking!

Surgeons perform a coronary bypass operation.
Surgeons perform a coronary bypass operation.
William F. Campbell/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

A diagnosis of heart failure may be a bit confusing to hear; after all, if your heart fails, then how can you still be alive? Heart failure doesn't mean that your heart flunked and took the grade of an F; instead, your heart has a C or a D when compared to A+ hearts, and it's just not working as well as it should.

The human heart is tasked with pumping blood throughout the body, and when the heart begins to fail, the body tries to find workarounds so that it can still meet its goals. For example, the heart may start pumping the blood more quickly or get bigger so that it can pump blood more strongly. Your blood vessels may narrow so that a weakened flow still produces adequate blood pressure. Unfortunately, though, the heart will eventually have to throw in the towel, and valuable treatment time may be lost if the workarounds disguised the true problems. The main symptoms of heart failure include fluid retention and swelling (the kidneys, deprived of blood, hold onto water and sodium) and shortness of breath.

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Heart failure has many causes, from high blood pressure to diabetes to damaged heart muscle. One major cause? You'll find it on the next page.

When you brush your teeth at bedtime, the last thing you may be thinking about is your heart. As it turns out, that toothbrush is a big help to your ticker when it comes to a condition known as endocarditis. Endocarditis occurs when bacteria, viruses or chemicals make their way through the bloodstream to the inner membrane between the heart's valves and chambers. Good oral hygiene helps keep those bacteria and chemicals from entering the bloodstream in the first place.

Endocarditis results in flulike symptoms, such as fevers, night sweats, fatigue and chills. It can be treated with antibiotics. People with congenital heart disease are at particular risk of developing this condition.

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You should talk with your doctor to learn about treatment options for your condition.
You should talk with your doctor to learn about treatment options for your condition.
David McGlynn/Getty Images

A healthy heart beats anywhere from 60 to 100 times every minute. An arrhythmia is a deviation from that normal rhythm. Bradycardia refers to an arrhythmia in which the heart beats too slowly; tachycardia to a heart beating too quickly. Fibrillation is when the heartbeat is sporadic or skips a beat here and there. Sometimes, the changes in rhythm are very apparent to the person experiencing them, while it's just as possible that the person won't notice a thing until long-term symptoms, such as fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath and fainting, begin to show up. There's a wide array of possible causes for arrhythmia, from heart defects and high blood pressure to stress and certain medications. There's also a wide array of treatment options -- in some cases, doctors may choose to keep an eye on the situation, while in others, they may recommend medications, surgery or insertion of a pacemaker.

 

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Some babies enter the world with a heart problem. Eight of every 1,000 children have a heart defect present at birth, otherwise known as congenital heart disease. Defects range from problems with heart valves closing or leaking to abnormalities in the heart muscle. In some instances, doctors will be able to spot the problem while the baby is still in the womb, while most cases are diagnosed at birth or shortly thereafter. It's possible, though, that the defect may not be detected until childhood or even adulthood. That's because many defects are symptomless and even harmless; some don't even require treatment. Sometimes, though, patients with congenital heart disease may need medications or, rarely, surgery. There's no one reason why congenital heart disease occurs. It may have something to do with genetics, infections experienced by an expecting mother, or exposure to alcohol and drugs while in the womb.

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