Heart Disease

Overview

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease refers to the conditions that affect your heart and the blood vessels connected to it. Sometimes this group of conditions is also called cardiovascular disease, with vascular referring to blood vessels.

At Aurora Health Care, we offer minimally invasive procedures to diagnose and treat all stages of heart disease. We can help you care for your heart, whether or not you have experienced serious effects from heart disease.

Types

Types of Heart Disease

People may experience a single type of heart disease or several at the same time. Learn more about the common types:

  • Hypertension: High blood pressure doesn’t usually have symptoms, but it can be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes.
  • Coronary artery disease: When fatty deposits called plaque build up in the arteries that supply blood to your heart, it’s called coronary artery disease. This condition makes it hard for oxygen-rich blood to get through.
  • Arrhythmia: Arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat that is fast, slow or irregular, and may make it more likely that blood clots will form. Clots can block a blood vessel so that blood doesn’t reach your heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy is a weakened heart muscle, which interferes with the heart’s pumping ability.
  • Heart valve disease: Any of the heart’s four valves can have problems opening and closing the way they should, a condition known as heart valve disease.
  • Peripheral artery disease: Poor circulation to the arteries in your legs and feet can cause peripheral artery disease.
  • Heart attack: Heart attack occurs when something – often a blood clot – stops the blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Stroke: When something blocks blood flow to the brain, a stroke can cause mild or severe effects.
  • Congenital heart disease: You may be born with a congenital heart disease, which may cause lifelong symptoms.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Hypertension and several other types of heart disease cause no symptoms. That makes heart disease challenging to identify and makes regular checkups an important part of care. A heart expert can talk with you about your risks and symptoms.

Symptoms vary by heart disease type and can include:

  • Chest pain (angina) or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue or a change in exercise tolerance
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded
  • Heart murmur
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling in your ankles, feet or abdomen
  • Unexplained shortness of breath
  • Weight gain caused by water retention

Risk Factors

Who Is at Risk for Heart Disease?

Heart disease can affect anyone, but it is more likely to develop as people age. The risk is greater in people who:

  • Are overweight
  • Are inactive
  • Have diabetes
  • Eat an unhealthy diet high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar
  • Smoke
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Have a family history of heart disease

Your doctor will discuss the causes of heart disease that are most likely to affect you. We’ll also help you understand how you can reduce your risk.

Diagnosis

Expert Heart Disease Diagnosis

Heart disease can have many causes, depending on which type is present. It’s important to have an accurate diagnosis, so that you receive the right treatment.

To identify the specific type of heart disease and its progress, we may use tools and tests such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): A 12-lead electrocardiogram is our standard for electrocardiogram. During this procedure, you recline on a table while a machine records your heart’s electrical activity using 12 electrodes attached to your body. The test lasts about 10 minutes.
  • Echocardiogram: An echo test (also called heart ultrasound) produces pictures of your heart’s size and motion.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A minimally invasive procedure to the heart to see how well your heart is working and to find out if you have blockages in the blood vessels around it. Learn more about cardiac catheterization.
  • Cardiac CT: A computed tomography (CT) scan creates 3-D images of the heart.
  • Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): A cardiac MRI lets us study your heart while it is moving. Learn more about this type of radiographic testing.
  • Stress test: Sometimes, people are tested while they exercise so doctors can see how their heart functions when it works hard. A stress test also can be done with medication, for people who are unable to exercise.
  • Chest X-ray: We may order a chest X-ray to examine the internal structures of your chest.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can check oxygen levels and organ function.
  • Tilt-table test: The head-up tilt-table test is a way for doctors to learn what is causing fainting spells.

Learn more about heart and vascular diagnosis and testing at Aurora.

Treatment

Personalized Heart Disease Care

If you’re diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor will work with you on a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Treatment will vary, depending on the cause of the heart disease – but know that we’re committed to offering the best care to help you stay well.

Our team includes some of Wisconsin’s leading experts in cardiovascular procedures. We may recommend treatments, such as:

  • Medication: Medications can help to control high blood pressure and relieve an irregular heartbeat.
  • Lifestyle changes: A healthy diet, relaxation techniques and increased activity can improve some heart disease symptoms and prevent disease from worsening.
  • Angioplasty and stenting: Angioplasty clears your arteries so your blood can flow more easily. In the cardiac cath lab, the doctor inflates a tiny balloon to open the artery. Sometimes, we leave a small cage (stent) in place to hold the artery open. The procedure is fast and causes very little pain.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery: Our surgeons are highly rated experts in CABG (pronounced like “cabbage”). This surgery improves the blood supply to the heart muscle by re-routing blood vessels and making a new pathway to the heart. Learn more about coronary artery bypass surgery.
  • Heart valve repair and replacement: We offer expertise in minimally invasive heart valve repair and replacement procedures. These techniques help heart valves to work as they should. Learn more about heart valve repair and replacement.
  • Ventricular assist devices (VAD): A VAD is an implanted device to help the heart beat regularly. Find out more about ventricular assist devices (VADs).
  • Heart transplant: Heart transplant can treat advanced heart failure. Our heart transplant program ranks among the top 5% nationwide. Find out more about heart transplant.

Learn more about interventional cardiology.

Rehabilitation From Heart Disease

Cardiac rehabilitation benefits many people who have heart disease.

If your doctor recommends cardiac rehab for you, rest assured that we offer the largest cardiac rehab program in Wisconsin.

With 14 locations, you can get your heart in shape right in your community. Learn more about cardiac rehabilitation.

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