What Is Heart Disease?

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What Is
Heart Disease?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a heart problem, you may be feeling worried, overwhelmed or anxious.

Sometimes, understanding your heart problem and knowing the facts can help you come to terms with it and help you to feel less worried.

The North area of Trafford has one of the largest average life expectancy rates within the borough’ and  ‘has higher than the Trafford average death rates for cancer, liver disease, respiratory disease and heart disease.’ There are also health inequalities by gender, level of deprivation and ethnicity. For example, men from the most deprived areas have over ten years shorter life expectancy than men from the least deprived areas, while women from the most deprived areas live over six years less than those from the least deprived areas.  The Trafford Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, (2009 -2012), highlights the need to improve awareness about these diseases in order to promote the seeking of early medical assistance in the most deprived areas amongst the Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and African-Caribbean communities.

The recently updated JSNA for 2012-2016 shows little change in life expectancy figures in relation to areas and also states that ‘cancer is now the biggest killer in under 75’s in Trafford’.


There are three different types of Heart Disease and the most common one is Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).

Coronary Heart Disease

CHD is the term that describes what happens when your heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries.

Over time, the walls of your arteries can become furred up with fatty deposits. This process is known as atherosclerosis and the fatty deposits are called atheroma. If your coronary arteries become narrow due to a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries this can cause angina (chest pains).

If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack. The medical term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction.



How the heart works

Your heart is a pump that keeps blood moving around your body. It delivers oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body, and carries away unwanted carbon dioxide and waste products.

The oxygen-rich blood returns to your heart and is then pumped to the organs of your body through a network of arteries. The blood returns to your heart through veins before being pumped back to your lungs again. This process is called circulation.

The heart gets its own supply of blood from a network of blood vessels on the surface of your heart, called coronary arteries.

BME Men and Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease PCT health profile for Trafford by SEPHO (South East Public Health Observatory) states that ‘South Asian men are more likely to develop CHD at a younger age, and have higher rates of myocardial infarction, (heart attack).


For people in some South Asian groups in the UK the risk of dying early from coronary heart disease is twice as high as for the general population.


Black people have the highest stroke mortality rates. http://www.trafford.gov.uk/coucilanddemocracy/equalityanddiversity/

Women and Heart Disease

Some people think that coronary heart disease only affects men, but it affects women as well. As a woman, it’s vital to know how heart disease can affect you. The good news is, in many cases, it can be prevented. For more information see the British Heart Foundation ‘women and heart disease’ page, or download or order their ‘Women and heart disease’ booklet. It’s a surprising fact for most women that heart disease is the single biggest killer of women in the UK. It kills 3 times more women than breast cancer.


Congenital Heart Disease

It is an abnormality of the heart that you are born with. In some cases, the condition is diagnosed when the baby is still developing in the womb, but in most cases the problem is not discovered until after the baby is born.

What causes congenital heart disease?

In most cases, something has gone wrong in the early development of the foetus. Some heart conditions are due to faulty genes or chromosomes. Often, we don’t understand why the baby’s heart hasn’t developed normally.

How is the condition discovered?

Many heart problems are picked up when the mother has an ultrasound scan during pregnancy, but sometimes they are not detected until after the baby has been born. Some conditions may not be discovered until the child is older or even an adult.


Children with congenital heart disease

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) means all the diseases of the heart and circulation including coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack), and stroke.

Cardiovascular disease – also known as heart and circulatory disease – is the biggest killer in the UK.  In 2009, around one third of all deaths in the UK were due to CVD.  Of these, over 82,000 deaths were caused by coronary heart disease, and about 49,000 were caused by stroke.

Coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack) and stroke may be caused by the same problem – atherosclerosis.  This is when your arteries become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material (called atheroma) within their walls.

In time, your arteries may become so narrow that they cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This can cause angina– a pain or discomfort in your chest.

If a piece of the atheroma in your arteries breaks away it may cause a blood clot to form.  If the blood clot blocks your coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, your heart muscle may become permanently damaged.This is known as a heart attack.

When a blood clot blocks an artery that carries blood to your brain, it can cut off the blood supply to part of your brain. This is called a stroke.


Symptoms of Coronary Heart Disease

Heart failure can occur in people with CHD. The heart becomes too weak to pump blood around the body, which can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, making it increasingly difficult to breathe.If your coronary arteries become partially blocked, it can cause chest pain (angina). If they become completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Some people experience different symptoms, including palpitations and unusual breathlessness. In some cases, people may not have symptoms of coronary heart disease (CHD) at all before they are diagnosed.

Angina is a symptom of CHD. It can be a mild, uncomfortable feeling that is similar to indigestion. However, a severe angina attack can cause a feeling of heaviness or tightness, usually in the centre of the chest, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.

Angina is often triggered by physical activity or stressful situations. The symptoms usually pass in less than 10 minutes and can be relieved by resting or using a nitrate tablet or spray.

Heart attacks can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle and, if not treated straight away, can be fatal.

If you think you are having a heart attack, dial 999 for immediate medical assistance.

The discomfort or pain of a heart attack is similar to that of angina but it is often more severe. During a heart attack you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • sweating
  • light-headedness
  • nausea
  • breathlessness

The symptoms of a heart attack can be similar to indigestion. For example, they may include a feeling of heaviness in your chest, a stomach ache or heartburn. A heart attack can happen at any time, including while you are resting. If heart pains last longer than 15 minutes, it may be the start of a heart attack.Heart failure can happen suddenly (acute heart failure) or gradually, over time (chronic heart failure).

Congenital Heart Disease can range from mild to life threatening and include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • blue-coloured skin, particularly on the fingers, toes and lips (the medical name for this is cyanosis)
  • getting tired easily, particularly after exercise

Find out more about symptoms of congenital heart disease, including the most common types of congenital heart disease and how they affect the body.

Serious heart defects are usually apparent soon after birth. However, less serious heart defects may not be noticed until later childhood or even adulthood.


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