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Heart Disease

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Signs and Symptoms

Heart diseases may be acute or chronic. They may be transient, relatively stable, or progressive. They may cause a variety of signs and symptoms that frequently change and/or worsen over time. Chronic heart diseases can have episodes with acutely worsened symptoms; these may resolve (either on their own or with treatment), persist, or even become life-threatening. People with early heart disease may experience few or vague symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath with or without effort, dizziness, and/or nausea; however, these symptoms do not indicate the particular type of heart disease present. These symptoms may also be seen with a variety of other conditions. Other signs and complications that may arise from heart disease include:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Dilation – stretching of one or more of the heart chambers, causing their interiors to become larger because of increased pressure
  • Embolism – blockage of a blood vessel by material that has traveled from a distant body site, most often a blood clot, but it can be due to fat or air or even amniotic fluid
  • Inability to keep up with increased demands for oxygen and clearance of waste products, such as during physical activity
  • Infarction – death of muscle cells due to blockage of blood flow
  • Insufficient contraction – not emptying or filling completely
  • Pain, frequently due to ischemia – a lack of sufficient oxygen because of reduced blood flow
  • Regurgitation – a backflow of blood causing increased pressure on the blood vessels of the lungs and liver
  • Stenosis – a narrowing of the openings of the heart
  • Tissue death – permanent loss of heart tissue due to lack of oxygen, leading to scarring
  • Ventricular hypertrophy – increased thickness of the walls of the heart, causing a decrease in the size of the chambers and also a decrease in the flexibility of the heart

Heart diseases may be due to:

  • Alcohol use
  • Amyloidosis – a rare, progressive disorder that occurs when abnormal proteins, called amyloids, are produced and deposited in various organs in the body such as the heart, causing tissue and organ damage
  • Anabolic steroid use
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Bacterial infection
  • Cocaine use
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Diabetes
  • Diet, especially when high in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Hypertension
  • Injury or trauma
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Thyroid dysfunction (under and overactive)
  • Toxins, such as mercury, and sometimes chemotherapy drugs or HIV/AIDS drugs
  • Viral infection

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