Every 1 in 3 men and every 1 in 5 women are at increased risk of a heart attack without even knowing it. Most people at risk don’t even show symptoms until the heart attack itself, or are only diagnosed with a heart disease when they are already showing strong symptoms. A heart attack is the most well-known heart condition. But the dangers for our heart are far more diverse and can have very different causes. We have detailed some typical symptoms and potential underlying heart diseases below. We have also provided an overview of particular conditions that affect the heart’s activity and electrical signals.
No symptoms? Many patients are asymptomatic at the time of diagnosis. Early detection of underlying conditions is absolutely key for a good prognosis. Cardisiography can detect many of these conditions that often go unnoticed, or at least provide an indication of their existence. This information serves as general guidance and should not be used as a self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It should not be considered as a replacement for visiting your GP!
Breathlessness, irregular heartbeat and dizziness
Dyspnoea (breathlessness) is considered to be the subjective feeling of being out of breath. In addition to possible lung diseases, dyspnoea can also be the symptom of a heart condition, particularly a coronary heart disease.
Irregular heartbeat and dizziness: Often paired with anxiety and light-headedness, these symptoms may be an indication of a heart disease. Cardiac arrhythmia must be excluded here.
A stenosis is a restriction of blood vessels or other hollow organs. Causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment depend on the location and clinical findings. Blood vessel stenoses are mostly caused by arteriosclerosis (calcification) but they can also be the result of injury or inflammation. For coronary heart disease (CHD), stenoses can often be detected by anginose discomfort (angina pectoris). A stenosis is often the precursor to a closure leading to an acute heart attack.
Angina pectoris is a paroxysmal pain in the chest caused by temporary disruption to circulation to the heart. This is usually caused by a narrowing of one or more coronary vessels. Angina pectoris is therefore not an illness in itself but rather a symptom/name for the clinical symptoms of an acute coronary insufficiency.
Coronary artery disease
According to the Center for Disease Control: Coronary artery disease is caused by plaque buildup in the wall of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries). Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits. Plaque buildup causes the inside of the arteries to narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. You and your health care team may be able to help you reduce your risk for CAD.
Too much plaque buildup and narrowed artery walls can make it harder for blood to flow through your body. When your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood, you may have chest pain or discomfort, called angina. Angina is the most common symptom of CAD. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle. This may lead to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart can’t pump blood the way that it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, also can develop.
Heart muscle diseases (Cardiomyopathies)
Diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathies, e.g. hypertensive heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) usually involve an enlargement of the heart muscle and disruption to the heart’s mechanical or electrical function. The causes are often genetic but they can also be caused by other problems such as high blood pressure or heart valve defects.
Cardiac arrhythmias are considered to be a disturbed and/or irregular sequence of heartbeats as a result of a disrupted electrical nervous conduction.
The causes can be congenital or develop later in life, or they may be the result of other heart diseases. While there are certain “harmless” arrhythmias (e.g. occasional irregular heartbeat), others can lead to serious complications (e.g. strokes caused by atrial fibrillation or life-threatening ventricular fibrillation).
Inflammation of the heart muscle or valve apparatus
Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or endocardium and heart valves (endocarditis) are inflammatory diseases with various causes. They are often caused by bacteria but they can also be a result of rheumatoid disease. Many inflammations do not have any symptoms although life-threatening illness with arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death is also possible.
Valvular heart disease
Heart valve defects on one or more heart valves can have many different causes. They are often caused by age-related conditions such as calcification or deposits. However, causes can also include bacterial infections, rheumatic diseases or other heart diseases and congenital heart failure. Heart valve defects can affect all heart valves. Valves can become constricted or leaking (insufficient). If constricted, the blood cannot be pumped out properly. If leaking, the blood can flow back into the corresponding heart cavity. Slight heart valve defects do not pose a huge risk and usually do not require any special treatment. Serious defects are usually treated with surgery.
Hypoperfusions and excitation abnormalities of the heart can be caused by many factors. Early detection of underlying conditions is absolutely key for a good prognosis. This information serves as general guidance and should not be used as a self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It should not be considered as a replacement for visiting your GP!