Heart disease is actually a group of conditions that affect the heart. The term cardiovascular disease is sometimes also used, because heart diseases are often connected to diseases of the blood vessels (vascular) and the brain (cerebral). Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women and across all age groups in America.
Many of the risk factors for heart disease, like obesity and high blood pressure, can be prevented in most people. Lifestyle changes can make a big difference in terms of prevention, but also treatment. Medications that are used to treat or prevent heart disease, like statins for lowering blood cholesterol, can have dangerous side effects. There are also many drugs used to treat other conditions that can play a role in causing or worsening heart disease.
Heart and Cardiovascular Conditions
There are multiple different conditions that are grouped under the heading of heart disease or cardiovascular disease. These are conditions that affect the heart, blood vessels, the brain, or some combination of the three. Many are preventable, although there may be genetic factors that play a role as well. These are the major conditions associated with heart and cardiovascular disease:
- Congestive heart failure. Also referred to as just heart failure, this condition occurs when the heart does not pump as well as it should. The name is misleading and does not mean that the heart has stopped working entirely. If not treated, the condition worsens and the body will not get enough oxygen or blood. Ultimately it is fatal.
- Heart attack. A heart attack is a more sudden type of heart failure. It occurs when something blocks the flow of blood in the heart, like a clot. This can be fatal if not treated as an emergency medical situation. A heart attack is usually preceded by coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside blood vessels or atherosclerosis, the hardening of arteries that restricts blood flow.
- Arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm. It may be a beat that is too fast, too slow, or that is irregular.
- Heart valve problems. The valves of the heart open and close to let blood flow, but in some people the valves may not close or open properly, either allowing too much or too little blood to flow through the heart.
- Stroke. A stroke, or a transient ischemic attack, occurs when a blood vessel bursts or is blocked in the brain. This is related to heart disease because it is affected by blood vessel damage like atherosclerosis or blood clots and plaque buildup. Strokes also have similar risk factors as heart diseases.
Risk Factors and Prevention
Although it is the number one killer in America, heart disease is largely preventable. Risk factors for most types of heart disease include being older, being male, having a family history of heart disease, a poor diet, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, and having diabetes.
Most of these risk factors are preventable or can at least be controlled. Important things to do to prevent or reduce the risk of developing heart disease are to quit smoking, to exercise regularly, to maintain a healthy weight, to eat a healthy diet low in salt and saturated fat, to manage stress, and to monitor and control blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
The symptoms of heart disease depend on the particular condition, but there are some overarching signs that something is wrong. These include chest pains, shortness of breath, a feeling of a racing or irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness and dizziness, edema, or swelling in the legs and feet, fatigue, and fainting.
Signs that a heart attack may be happening include a squeezing or pressure in the chest, pain in the arms, back, neck, stomach, or jaw, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, cold sweat, and nausea. A stroke is also a sudden event and may manifest as weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body, trouble speaking, trouble understanding, confusion, vision loss in one eye, dizziness, loss of coordination, and severe headache.
Medications that Treat Heart Disease
Some instances of heart disease may be treated with surgical procedures. For instance, a blocked artery may need to be treated with bypass surgery, using blood vessels to bypass the blockage. Problems with heart valves may be corrected surgically, and some people with arrhythmias may have a pacemaker installed to regulate the heartbeat.
Medications are also used to treat heart disease and to treat things like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and a vulnerability to blood clot formation that can lead to heart disease. While many people get good results from these drugs, too many are harmed. Some of the medications have side effects or contribute to other diseases. In some cases the drug companies have been implicated in making unsafe claims about their products and lawsuits have followed.
One such medication is Benicar, which is used to treat high blood pressure. Made by Daiichi Sankyo, adverse events reports about a dangerous gastrointestinal condition led to an FDA warning about it in 2013. The drug may cause sprue-like enteropathy in some patients, which can cause severe diarrhea and weight loss. The U.S. Department of Justice accused the company of making misleading claims about the safety of Benicar and Daiichi Sankyo paid $39 million in fines.
Lipitor is a common drug used to prevent heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. It is one of many drugs in a class called statins that lowers so-called bad cholesterol, raises levels of good cholesterol, and lowers triglycerides. Lipitor is one of the most popular drugs in the U.S., but since it came on the market, studies and adverse event reports have shown that it can cause liver damage, increase the risk of developing diabetes, and cause myopathy, a serious muscle disorder. Several lawsuits have been filed against Pfizer by patients who say the company never warned them about the diabetes risk.
Medications that Contribute to Heart Disease
It is not only medications treating heart disease that can cause problems for patients. There are many dangerous drugs used to treat other conditions that may also cause or increase the risk for certain types of heart disease. Stimulants like Adderall carry warnings that the drugs may increase the risk of a stroke or heart attack, for instance. Patients and their doctors must always weigh the benefits against the risks for these and other drugs.
Zithromax is an antibiotic that is widely used to treat various types of infections. It has been available for more than 20 years, but it was not until 2012 that the FDA warned it could cause heart disease. The warning was in response to a study that found people using Zithromax to treat infections were more likely to die from cardiovascular events than people in control groups. Further study found that the antibiotic could cause irregular heartbeats.
Several newer drugs used to control blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes patients have been found to cause or worsen congestive heart failure. One of these is Avandia. The FDA announced in 2007 that it elevated the risk for developing heart failure or worsening heart failure. The warning was strong enough to warrant a black box on the medication label. Maker GlaxoSmithKline has since been accused of knowing about the risks while promoting Avandia and this has led to a number of lawsuits.
Heart disease is a group of conditions that are most often fatal, but which are also preventable. Medications play a big role in preventing and treating heart disease, but there are also other drugs that increase the risk of heart disease. Prevention and good health habits are the best ways to avoid the complications that come with these medications.
- http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp - .WEcXprIrJpg
- http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/What-Are-Heart-Disease-and-Stroke_UCM_308835_Article.jsp - .WEcbAbIrJpg