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Symptoms and Conditions
Patient Education » Symptoms and Conditions

Symptoms and Conditions

Heart disease is sometimes referred to as the "silent killer". This is because many people don't know they have heart disease until they get a heart attack. Someone in the US has a heart attack once every 20 seconds and that is why it is ranked the number one disease in the US.

There are classic symptoms for cardiovascular disease that you need to recognize and respond to immediately. Increased awareness of your health can help you take the appropriate action.

  • Chest Pain / Angina

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    Angina literally means "strangling in the chest". Caused by the blockage of a coronary artery by plaque or a blood clot, angina is a discomfort in the chest as a result of insufficient oxygen supply to the heart. Some individuals experience angina is also as tightness or heaviness in the chest, and sometimes pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, back, or arms. The condition can progress into Unstable Angina, a more serious condition recognized by angina experienced at rest as well as under exertion. Unstable Angina indicates a significantly stenotic artery (70% stenotic), and can be a sign of a recent or impending heart attack.

    Angina is treated by medications that break down and discourage formation of clots: Aspirin, Plavix, Heparin, IIb/IIIa inhibitors: (eptifibatide (Integrelin), tirofiban (Aggrastat), and abciximab (ReoPro)), Beta blockers: (atenolol (Tenormin), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol XL), nadolol (Corgard), and propranolol (Inderal, Inderal LA)), Nitroglycerine, Calcium channel blockers: (amlodipine (NorvascĀ®), diltiazem (CardizemĀ®), and verapamil (Calan, Calan SR, Covera HS, Isoptin, Isoptin SR, Veralan)).

  • Cough

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    Although it can be caused by a variety of inflammatory, allergic, and neoplastic disorders of the tracheobronchial tree, cough may be an important manifestation of left ventricular failure and frequently accompanies dyspnea, orthopnea, and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea.

  • Cyanosis

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    Cyanosis is a bluish coloration of the skin and mucous membranes. Cyanosis has two principal causes - central and peripheral. In central cyanosis, arterial blood is unsaturated because of a reduced inspired oxygen concentration - as occurs at a high altitude (usually above 10,000 ft.) - or because of impaired pulmonary function. Peripheral cyanosis is more common than central cyanosis and is caused by reduced blood flow to the extremities, particularly the distal portions.

  • Dizziness / Syncope

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    Vasovagal syncope, the most common cause of syncope, may occur in response to prolonged standing, emotional stress and physical exhaustion, pain, venipuncture, or the sight of blood. Orthostatic hypotension may be precipitated by hypovolemia, dehydration, or the excessive administration of antihypertensive drugs. Syncope secondary to a cardiac arrhythmia is usually virtually instantaneous in onset. Syncope accompanied by chest pain may occur in massive myocardial infarction. Exertional syncope is characteristic of aortic stenosis and hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. Syncope of cardiovascular origin is not usually associated with convulsive movements or a postsyncopal confusional state, and consciousness is usually regained promptly.

  • Fatigue

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    This nonspecific symptom is present in many cardiovascular and non cardiovascular disorders. Fatigue is an important manifestation of low cardiac output and impaired systemic perfusion in heart failure. It may also be seen in heart failure after excessive diuresis. Profound fatigue is observed in patients with large myocardial infarcts, as well as in those with hypertension who are receiving antihypertensive therapy and their blood pressure has been lowered too rapidly.

  • Hypertension (HTN)

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    High blood pressure, abbreviated HTN, is a condition considered present when systolic blood pressure is above 135 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure is above 85 mm Hg. HTN increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, CHF, and kidney failure. Normally, there is no recognizable cause of hypertension, although it is possible that a genetic predisposition exists.

  • Palpitations / Arrhythmias

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    A variety of changes in cardiac rhythm or rate can cause palpitations, an unpleasant awareness of rapid or forceful beating of the heart. Anxiety is often responsible.

    Disorders of the heart rhythm. The heart rhythm is controlled by electrical impulses, which travel to each part of the heart along a system of conductive cells. Arrhythmias occur when there is a problem with this conduction system, or the heart muscle's response to the electrical impulses. There are many types of arrhythmia, which can be classified by two characteristics: which area of the heart is effected, and the speed or regularity of contraction.

    An arrhythmia is said to be ventricular when it originates in the lower chambers of the heart, and supraventricular or atrial when it originates in the upper chambers.

    Some examples: Tachycardia denotes a dangerously fast heartbeat, while bradycardia indicates dangerously slow rhythm. Fibrillation and flutter describe rapid, uncoordinated contraction of the muscle fibers constituting the myocardium: in fibrillation there is no recognizable contraction pattern, whereas flutter produces a recognizable but strange pattern.

    Atrial Fibrillation (sometimes called A-Fib) refers to uncoordinated contraction in the atria, preventing a regular rhythm. Ventricular Tachycardia (called V-Tach for short) refers to extremely fast contraction in the ventricles.

  • Shortness of Breath / Dyspnea

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    Discomfort in breathing, at rest and during mild exertion. Discomfort in breathing is normal under heavy exertion. Another form, Nocturnal Dyspnea, awakens people 2-5 hours after falling asleep with feelings of breathlessness. Dypsnea can indicate a wide variety of diseases, although it usually indicates heart disease when onset progresses over weeks as opposed to sudden onset (one exception being in patients with a history of heart disease, when sudden Dyspnea may indicate further heart problems). Heart diseases that are frequently accompanied by dyspnea include left ventricular failure, pulmonary venous hypertension, heart attach when accompanied by thoracic pain, and problems with the left atrium.

  • Swelling / Edema

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    Bilateral ankle edema, most prominent at the end of the day, is characteristic of congestive heart failure. This diagnosis is strongly supported when edema is accompanied by exertional dyspnea. Cardiac edema is usually preceded by a gain of weight of 5 to 10 lb., is symmetric, and progresses upward from the ankles to the shins, thighs, and genitalia.