Any physiological condition which disturbs the normal functioning of the heart can be termed as heart disease. That, however, is a very broad spectrum. But it is difficult to classify different types of heart diseases because the heart’s functioning is well integrated with the pulmonary system, muscular system, and vascular system. Anything that disturbs these systems can also lead to heart failure to perform normally.
Types of heart diseases
Even with the constraints for classifying heart diseases, they can be broadly grouped as those due to
- Congenital and genetic conditions;
- Rhythm-based conditions or arrhythmia;
- Muscle related conditions and cardiomyopathy;
- Valves based conditions;
- Coronary artery based conditions;
- Pulmonary system based conditions; and
- Infection and other pathology-based conditions
Congenital and genetics-based heart diseases
The list includes
- Septal defects – In this condition, a hole exists between 2 chambers in the patient’s heart, leading to the mixing of the blood, and also reducing pumping efficiency.
- Obstruction defects – In this condition, the structure of the heart is such that the normal flow of blood is obstructed partially or completely.
- Cyanotic defect – In this condition, heart behaves like an inefficient pump, unable to pump sufficient oxygen
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – this condition is inherited. The left ventricle’s walls start becoming thicker, and the heart has difficulty pumping out the blood from it
Rhythm-based conditions or Arrhythmia
This category includes
- Tachycardia – heartbeats are faster than normal
- Bradycardia – heartbeats are slower than normal
- Fibrillation – heartbeats are irregular
The heart has an electrical impulse generating system, which coordinates all the activities that go on in it. When this system starts faltering, heartbeats too show variation. Such variation can also be because of the weakness of the heart’s muscles.
Muscle-related conditions and cardiomyopathy
The heart is a muscular organ, unlike the liver or lungs. Muscles require a regular supply of oxygen and nutrients. Inadequate supply of such requirements could lead to muscle weakness and consequent deterioration in the functioning of the heart.
This category includes
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy
This is essentially due to muscle weakness, as mentioned above, and the diseased coronary artery is often the culprit. Like in Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the left ventricle is more susceptible to this condition.
- Myocardial Infarction
In this condition, a blood clot causes the disruption in blood supply to the heart’s muscles because of which some of the muscles die. Again the culprit could be a coronary artery, though other arteries too can lead to this condition. Even spasms in any arteries or narrowing of arteries can lead to this condition. Myocardial infarction is also referred to as coronary thrombosis or cardiac infarction.
- Heart attack
People are familiar with this name and tend to use it synonymously for many heart diseases. In truth, this is the result of the heart’s muscles becoming weak or stiff, possibly due to hypertension for a long time, or even diseased coronary artery.
- Valves based conditions
Examples of such conditions are:
- Mitral regurgitation
There is a bicuspid valve that separates the left atrium from the left ventricle. It is called the mitral valve. The function of this valve is to prevent the blood from flowing back into the atrium. But at times, this valve becomes inefficient, i.e., it ceases to close tightly, because of which the pumping efficiency of the heart comes down.
- Mitral valve “prolapsed”
At times mitral valve does close tightly, but not completely, because of which the blood pushes it towards the atrium.
- Coronary artery based conditions:
The coronary artery is the one that supplies blood to the muscles of the heart with all nutrients and oxygen. It can develop plaque due to cholesterol and consequently deliver less blood to the muscles. Plaque can also break and damage these vessels. Because of the shortage of oxygen and/or nutrients due to plaque, heart muscles start wasting, bringing down their normal performance levels.
- Pulmonary system based conditions
There can be an obstruction preventing blood from the right ventricle getting into the pulmonary artery. At times the problem is due to pulmonary valves as well, which may be closing too tightly. The condition is referred to as “pulmonary stenosis.” In this condition, the patient’s right ventricle needs to work doubly hard to push the blood out into the pulmonary artery.
- Infections and other pathology-based conditions:
Myocarditis is a heart condition that is caused by factors including-
- Bacterial infections such as clostridia, meningococci, mycobacteria, etc.
- Viral infections such as influenza, enterovirus, coxsackie B, adenovirus, etc.
- Parasitic infections such as filaria, schistosomes, and malaria
- Fungal infections such as candida and aspergillosis
- Eosinophilic – in this condition, the heart muscles exhibit a very high level of eosinophils
- Lymphocytic – in this condition, the heart muscles exhibit more than normal levels of lymphocytes.
- Autoimmune diseases for example Lupus
In all such cases, muscles of the heart get inflamed and may eventually die, which is not good news.
At times, such inflammation of the heart’s muscles may last for 2 weeks or less, while at other times, it may last over 2 weeks and become chronic.
There are unknown reasons also for myocarditis. In such cases, it is referred to as idiopathic.
They differ from condition to condition. Usually, though, a person with heart disease would complain of fatigue, dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, excessive sweating, vomiting, pain in the neck, upper abdomen, jaw, back, arms, and chest. But the possibility of a patient exhibiting no symptoms whatsoever also exists, especially in case of genetic heart disease and myocardial infarction.
While heart disease is not something to be ignored, many of these conditions can be managed with due care. Periodic investigations, even when there are no symptoms, will go a long way for identifying the disease and managing it without letting it aggravate. Seemingly innocuous problems, such as arrhythmia too, can be fatal. Mitral valves related problems can be corrected in open-heart surgery. There are better procedures available these days, which can ensure a better quality of life, even after heart surgery. Treatment, however, differs for different types of heart diseases. Cardiologists would be able to diagnose the condition at the earliest if the patient maintains a medical record of all investigations, along with the medications that have been periodically prescribed. Time does matter in heart disease.