Your heart is your body's pumping machine. It shoots blood to every organ, tissue and cell, delivering oxygen and nutrients to keep them healthy.
When you have heart disease, your heart doesn’t pump as well. And that can cause problems for the rest of your body.
Heart disease comes in four types. It can be a plumbing, electrical, mechanical or strength problem, or sometimes a combination of the four.
1. Clogged plumbing (coronary artery disease)
Blood vessels can get clogged with plaque, a sticky substance made mostly of fats and calcium.
“When plaque starts to build up in the vessels to your heart, your heart doesn’t receive as much oxygen and nutrients,” says Samir Kapadia, MD, a coronary artery disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic. “That causes painful cramps in your chest, called angina.”
If the vessels suddenly clog completely with a blood clot, you have a heart attack. To reduce your risk, cardiologists like Dr. Kapadia help open the clogged vessels.
Often medications to decrease plaque buildup and lower your blood pressure are enough.
Other times you may need angioplasty or stenting. That’s when a wire-thin tube is threaded into your clogged vessel. At the tip of the tube is a tiny balloon that inflates to press plaque against the vessel wall, widening the vessel so blood can flow better.
“Usually we leave behind a tiny mesh tube (stent) to keep the vessel open,” says Dr. Kapadia.
For tougher clogs, you may need bypass surgery. That’s when a surgeon creates a detour around clogged vessels by repurposing a healthy vessel from another part of your body.
2. Electrical malfunction (arrhythmia)
The pumping of your heart is controlled by electrical impulses. They pulse in sync, rhythmically moving blood in and out of your heart’s chambers.
When impulses are out of sync, your heart may beat too fast or too slow, or quiver.
“In addition to sensing heart palpitations, you may feel dizzy, lightheaded or tired,” says Cleveland Clinic arrhythmia specialist Oussama Wazni, MD. “If not treated, an arrhythmia can raise your risk of stroke and sudden cardiac death.”
Treatment depends on your condition. To speed up a slow-beating heart, you may need a pacemaker. To regulate a fast-beating or quivering heart, you may need medication or an ablation procedure, which destroys the bits of heart tissue causing the electrical jitters. For severe cases of arrhythmia, a cardiac electrophysiologist can implant a defibrillator in your chest to jolt your rhythm back to normal when needed.