You’ve heard the news stories – young, healthy adults dying suddenly due to an undiagnosed heart condition. It’s a tragedy, but often in hindsight, there were symptoms. Estimates suggest that 3.7 million Americans have an undiagnosed heart condition. Heart conditions can affect everyone, regardless of age, gender or physical fitness, and can get better or worse as we age.
Heart screenings can be life saving. Many people don’t realize that their family history might be putting them at risk or that their blood pressure is too high. Screenings—looking for disease before there are symptoms—can be vital in saving a person’s life. Through heart screenings and timely intervention, serious problems can often be avoided.
Cholesterol and blood pressure are good starting measurements for your overall heart health, but these numbers don’t give a full picture of your cardiovascular wellness. When indicated, other technologies may be used to diagnose heart conditions, such as ultrasound, stress test or MRI. The severity of heart conditions can vary widely, even among people with the same disorder. Being aware of the different types is the first step toward understanding the risks. Here are a few of the conditions that commonly affect people:
• Bicuspid Aortic Valve Disease – Instead of having a heart valve with three leaflets, some people have only two. Without the third leaflet, the valve may be leaky or become narrowed over time. This condition needs to be monitored closely.
• Irregular Heartbeat (Arrhythmia) – Arrhythmia refers to any problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some can be serious, leading to stroke or other life-threatening problems.
• Heart Muscle Dysfunction (Cardiomyopathy) – Cardiomyopathy refers to a number of diseases of the heart muscle. As the condition worsens, the heart muscle weakens and can eventually fail. The causes can be inherited or acquired.
Women Take Note
Doctors are missing the diagnosis in up to three million women with coronary heart disease because their clinical and diagnostic signs differ from a male presentation. Gender differences in cardiovascular risk factors and in the clinical presentation of coronary artery disease may explain why some women with coronary arteries that appear to be clear on angiography are actually at high risk for ischemic heart disease.
While crushing chest pain is the most recognized heart attack symptom in both men and women, as many as one-third of female heart attack patients never experience any chest pain. Every woman should learn the signs of heart attack in females and take them seriously. These six heart attack symptoms are common in women:
1. Chest pain or discomfort
2. Pain in your arm, back, neck or jaw
3. Stomach pain
4. Shortness of breath, nausea or lightheadedness