The major underlying cause of cardiovascular disease has
been associated with atherosclerosis. This is the buildup of fatty deposits within the
walls of arteries that restricts the flow of blood.
Ultimately, the arteries may get blocked affecting the
heart, brain and other parts of the body. This disease can begin in childhood. The linings
of the arteries becomes thickened by fatty deposits called plaque. The artery walls become
hard and thick as these deposits build up. Then the arteries lose their ability to expand
and contract. Blood cannot move through them as easily. If a clot of blood or plaque
becomes lodged in one of these arteries, then the artery may become completely blocked.
Then the body tissues that the artery supplies are deprived of needed oxygen and
nutrients. When this happens, the tissues begin to die. If a blocked artery is to the
heart, a heart attack may occur. If a blocked artery is to the brain, a stroke may occur.
Arteries that supply the heart with blood may become
narrowed due to atherosclerosis. This condition is called coronary artery disease. People
with this condition may not have any symptoms. In more severe cases, chest pain called
angina pectoris can be caused by narrowed arteries. Narrowed arteries can deliver enough
blood to meet the normal heart needs. However, during excitement, physical exertion,
exposure to cold, or digestion of a heavy meal, the heart requires additional blood. Then
the blood supply to the heart muscle is insufficient to meet these demands. Angina
pectoris may occur suddenly. The pain is under the breastbone but may also be present in
the neck or arms. It is usually relieved by rest and medication.
The heart muscle, like other body tissues, needs an
adequate supply of blood to stay alive. If a blood clot in a narrowed artery blocks the
flow of blood to the part of the heart muscle, a heart attack occurs. The section of heart
muscle that does not receive the blood begins to die. This condition is called myocardial
infarction, or M.I. As a result of M.I., heart action can be seriously impaired. A heart
attack may be a sudden episode. However, the condition that leads to an attack, coronary
heart disease, develops over a long period of time.
Often, the symptoms of heart attack are confused with those
of indigestion. Signs of a heart attack include uncomfortable pressure, fullness,
squeezing or pain in the center of the chest, and sometimes in the arms and shoulders,
lasting for two minutes or more. Sweating, dizziness, nausea, fainting, or shortness of
breath may also occur. The dying area may upset normal electrical activity. The heart
starts a wild, twitching movement called ventricular fibrillation. Then the heart is no
longer pumping blood effectively. If this happens, CPR should be administered immediately.
The treatment for heart attacks may include drugs, surgery,
and physical therapy. If a person survives a heart attack, the healing process begins
almost immediately. Scar tissue begins to form and gradually replaces the destroyed heart
muscle. Small arteries bordering on the damaged area enlarge to provide a sufficient
supply of blood to the heart.
The extent of damage suffered during the heart attack
determines the time necessary to recuperate. Most of the victims of heart attacks have a
good chance of returning to normal life. Overwork, tension, worrying, emotional episodes,
lack of rest, excess weight, and smoking must be avoided. Most of the heart attack victims
learn to live a healthy life; so many never face a second heart attack.
Congestive Heart Failure:
Prolonged high blood pressure, heart attack, and other
cardiovascular diseases can cause congestive heart failure. The heart muscles may then
lack the strength to keep blood circulating normally through the body. Blood flow slows
and is inadequate to supply the body's needs. Blood returning to the heart is backed up,
causing swelling. This is generally predominant in the ankles and legs. Kidneys may not
work properly. As a result, fluid may collect in the lungs.
Congestive heart failure requires a rest, a low salt diet,
and drug therapy. Sometimes the underlying cause of heart failure can be corrected.
Replacing the defective heart valves, for example, may correct the problem and in that
instance the symptoms of congestive heart failure will disappear.