What is Chronic Heart Disease?

The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood to the entire body. It consists of four chambers, separated by valves, which pump rhythmically to direct the flow of blood. Diseases of the heart may affect its structure and function. These include:

  • Coronary artery disease: The coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart may become stiff or narrowed due to the accumulation of plaque (cholesterol), obstructing the flow of blood.
  • Arrhythmia: Changes in the rhythm of the heart
  • Heart defects: Congenital defects in the structure of the heart
  • Valve defects: Narrowing, leakage or improper closure of heart valves
  • Cardiomyopathy: Weak heart muscles
  • Infection: Infection may affect the different layers of the heart wall including the valves.

Risks of Heart Disease

High blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, increased age, substance abuse, poor diet, stress and positive family history increase the risk of heart diseases.

Chronic heart diseases can lead to:

  • Heart failure: Inability of the heart to pump blood to the body
  • Heart attack: Destruction of heart tissue due to blocked coronary arteries
  • Stroke: Destruction of brain tissues due to blocked arteries supplying the brain
  • Aneurysm: Bulge in the artery wall that can burst and lead to fatal internal bleeding
  • Sudden cardiac arrest: Sudden loss of breathing, consciousness and heart function
  • Peripheral artery disease: Block in leg arteries, which can travel to the lungs and block its main artery.

Most of these complications can be fatal if not identified and treated immediately. Chronic heart diseases can be identified by the common symptoms of angina (chest pain), jaw, throat, neck, upper abdomen or back pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, numbness of the extremities, changes in heart rate and rhythm, swelling in the hands or feet, dizziness, fainting, fever, or skin rash or discoloration.

When you present with these symptoms, your doctor will review your medical and family history and perform a thorough physical examination. A chest X-ray and blood tests are ordered. Other diagnostic tests include a CT, MRI, echocardiogram (harmless ultrasound waves help determine structural abnormalities), electrocardiogram (the measurement of electrical signals of your heart help determine rhythm irregularities) or cardiac catheterization (X-ray images of the injection of a contrast dye helps monitor the flow of blood in arteries).

Lifestyle changes are recommended to treat chronic heart diseases. These include proper diet, physical activity, avoiding substance abuse and stress management. Your doctor may prescribe medications to control blood pressure, prevent clotting or treat infection; thereby, reducing the risk of heart failure or stroke. Surgery may be recommended to improve blood flow by opening or bypassing areas of blockage and correcting heart defects.