Detection and Diagnosis: A Guide to the Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis of Heart Diseases
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Detection and Diagnosis: A Guide to the Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis of Heart Diseases

Cardiovascular, or heart disease, is now the number one cause of death worldwide. In fact, an estimated 17.9 million people died from heart disease in 2016, representing 31% of all deaths that year, according to the experts at mattsharplaw.com.

85% of these deaths were caused by a heart attack or stroke. 

With so many people dying from this condition, it’s a wonder we don’t know more about it. For example, how is heart disease diagnosed? How many types of heart disease are there?

Keep reading to learn all about heart disease before you find yourself becoming a victim of this life-altering condition. 

Types of Heart Disease

One American dies from heart disease every 37 seconds. Meanwhile, one in four deaths, or 647,000 Americans, occur due to this life-ending condition. There are three main types of ischemic heart disease. 

These include:

  • Obstructive coronary artery disease
  • Nonobstructive coronary artery disease
  • Coronary microvascular disease

Of these, coronary artery disease impacts the larger arteries located on the surface of the heart. Many patients have both obstructive and nonobstructive forms of this condition. Coronary microvascular disease, on the other hand, affects only the smaller arteries in the heart.

There are other types of cardiovascular diseases, such as angina, arrhythmia, or atrial fibrillation. 

Obstructive Coronary Artery Disease

Patients develop obstructive coronary artery disease as plaque builds in their large arteries. Over time, this can cause the larger arteries to narrow. The plaque buildup then reduces how much oxygen-rich blood can reach the heart. 

If you have obstructive coronary artery disease, it means over 50% of the heart’s arteries are blocked.

Nonobstructive Coronary Artery Disease

With nonobstructive coronary artery disease, the arteries are narrowed by plaque, but not as much. You’ll receive this diagnosis if less than 50% of the heart’s larger arteries are obstructed. Plaque buildup is often noted between 20 and 50%.

Patients develop this condition due to either disease or when injury occurs to the lining of the large arteries.

This can impact the arteries’ ability to expand. The arteries expand as a response to signals that cause more blood to flow towards the heart. When these inner walls are damaged, they can spasm, which sometimes causes decreased blood flow. 

Coronary Microvascular Disease

When the heart’s smallest arteries are at risk, patients develop coronary microvascular disease. This condition occurs alone, or alongside other heart diseases, including the two mentioned above. 

Coronary microvascular disease occurs when the microvascular system experienced molecular changes. These tiny blood vessels throughout the heart can prevent normal blood to travel through the smaller arteries. 

You might also have atrial fibrillation, which involved arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. This condition can lead to stroke, blood clots, heart failure, or other issues. 

You can read this article to find out more about atrial fibrillation.

Causes

Before we answer the question “how is heart disease diagnosed,” let’s talk about how it’s caused.

Obstructive and nonobstructive coronary artery disease are both caused by plaque buildup. When plaque builds in the arteries, it’s caused atherosclerosis. Plaque buildup can occur over many years, hardening and narrowing the arteries until there’s less blood flow. 

Tiny pieces of plaque or blood clots can stick to arteries as well, causing coronary microvascular disease. 

The second cause of heart disease is molecular changes throughout the small blood vessels. Sometimes, these molecular changes are part of the body’s normal aging process. In other cases, it’s caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic inflammation. 

When the cells experience small changes, they might not respond correctly when they receive signals. 

Risk Factors

There are a few factors that can also leave you at risk of developing heart disease.

These include:

  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices (remaining physically inactive, smoking, stress, unhealthy eating factors)
  • Age
  • Environmental/occupation factors (toxins, radiation, long periods of sitting, limited sleep hours, high stress)
  • A family history of early cardiovascular disease
  • Medical conditions (including autoimmune, inflammatory, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity)
  • Race
  • Sex 

While heart disease affects both men and women, obstructive coronary artery disease is more common among men. Meanwhile, nonobstructive coronary artery disease is more common with women. 

The Symptoms of Heart Disease

The symptoms of heart disease depend on the specific condition. A few symptoms you have an underly heart issue include:

  • Cold sweats
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest 

An acute coronary event, such as a heart attack, might also cause these symptoms. Patients might also experience sleep disturbances, neck pain, or angina.

The Diagnosis

Now that you know more about the condition, how is heart disease diagnosed?

The process often depends on the type of heart disease. However, most doctors follow the same outline to complete a heart disease diagnosis. This includes:

  • Taking the patient’s full medical history
  • Performing a focused physical exam
  • Completing a list of medical tests before completing the diagnosis

To take your medical history, the doctor will interview you regarding your symptoms. These questions can include what causes your symptoms, what stops them, how often they last, or when they happen. 

Understanding your symptoms is an important step in making an accurate diagnosis.

Next, the doctor will complete a physical examination. A cardiac examination can tell the doctor about the presence, absence, or type of heart issue you’re experiencing.

You might also require specialized testing. These tests are sometimes expensive and time-consuming. In other cases, they’re invasive as well.

However, these specialized tests are essential to ensure your heart disease diagnosis is accurate.

Your doctor will use the information gathered from your medical history and physical exam to determine if you need special tests. These can include an electrocardiogram (ECG) to record your heart’s electrical activity.

Other specialized tests include:

  • Ambulatory monitoring
  • Echocardiogram/cardiac ultrasound
  • Cardiac CT scan
  • Cardia MRI study
  • Stress test
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Electrophysiology study
  • Tilt table study

Once your doctor understands the type of heart disease you have, they can determine the procedure, medication, or surgery you’ll need for treatment.

How Is Heart Disease Diagnosed: A Heart to Heart About Your Health

How is heart disease diagnosed? You’ll need to visit your doctor to get the process started. They can review your medical history and symptoms before using specialized testing to confirm a diagnosis. 

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