Heart disease, a form of cardiovascular disease, is a category of conditions which are identified by disruptions to the normal flow of blood to the heart. Typically these disruptions are caused by obstructions to blood vessels of the heart and can lead to cardiac cell death as well as heart dysfunction, due to low oxygen supply.
The development of heart disease can start from a very early age via the build-up of plaque (fatty material) on the walls of blood vessels, a process called atherosclerosis. This deposition of fatty material is the result of circulating cholesterol attaching to blood vessel walls which can eventually accumulate and inhibit/stop blood circulation to the heart. The degree of plaque build-up is determined by a number of both modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors:
Currently, cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every twelve minutes and is the leading cause of death in Australia. In 2012 alone, 43,946 Australians died (30% of all deaths) due to cardiovascular disease and 20,046 (13% of all deaths) of those were to heart disease alone.
Signs, Symptoms and Detection
Heart disease is characterised by a lack of oxygen to the heart and, as a result, can lead to a number of signs and symptoms. The most common symptom of heart disease is angina (chest, neck, jaw, upper back and/or arm pain), however more signs and symptoms are listed in the table below. If you suffer from any of the symptoms listed above and are concerned that you may have heart disease, it is recommended that you promptly consult your physician regarding the issue. Your physician may require you to undergo an ECG test to check for any abnormalities in your heart’s function.
Prevention and Management
Most deaths related to heart disease are avoidable. To reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease, the amount of modifiable risk factors should be limited where possible. For both prevention and management of heart disease the focus should be placed on adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Physical Activity and Heart Disease
Currently it is recommended that individuals who have coronary heart disease perform a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of low-moderate intensity exercise 3 to 4 days per week in addition to increasing activities of daily living. Regular exercise is a key component for heart disease risk factor management, as well as for reducing the likelihood of a future myocardial infarction (heart attack). It should also be noted that strenuous activity may offer some cardiovascular benefits, however, poses an increased risk of adverse cardiac events occurring and is not recommended for most individuals with heart disease. If you have been diagnosed with any form of cardiovascular disease or are experiencing symptoms that are associated with heart disease please ensure you consult your local physician and/or exercise physiologist before commencing an exercise program. It is also advised that individuals recently diagnosed with heart disease undergo a supervised exercise program and be aware of the signs and symptoms of heart dysfunction (e.g. angina, abnormal fatigue, nausea, palpations etc.).