Your heart has two systems, vascular and electric. The vascular system is made of veins that carry blood into the heart and arteries that carry blood from the heart to cells throughout your body. The electrical system stimulates the heart muscle to contract. “Heart disease” is often used synonymously with “heart attack.” However, a heart attack (the total blockage of an artery that leads to the heart) is a vascular problem. There are other kinds of heart conditions as well.
When you have a problem with the electrical impulses that stimulate the heart, you have an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia can affect the top or bottom chambers of your heart. It can make your heart beat too quickly, not quickly enough or out-of-sync. When your heart flutters or skips a beat, this is a palpitation that could be caused by arrhythmia. Other symptoms include:
- Dizziness and light-headedness
- Shortness of breath
Most arrhythmias are harmless, but some may require treatment.
Fixing the Flow
As part of the vascular system, the heart has four valves that open and close to control blood flow in the heart.
- Heart valve disease occurs when one or more of your valves don’t work correctly.
- Regurgitation is when blood leaks through a valve in the wrong direction.
- Stenosis is when a valve is narrowed and blood cannot flow properly.
- Valve prolapse is when a valve does not close tightly enough.
Valve problems may be present for no apparent reason, or they may be caused by infections, heart attacks or heart disease. The most obvious symptom of heart valve disease is a murmur‚ an unusual heartbeat that can indicate a problem.
Why Arrhythmia Matters
Many arrhythmias don’t cause long-term problems. However, atrial fibrillation (or A-fib) can put you at risk for serious cardiac conditions.
In a healthy heart, the heart contracts and releases to a steady beat. With A-fib, the upper chambers of the heart quiver or flutter instead of strongly contracting. A-fib makes you five times as likely to have a stroke, according to the American Heart Association. Heart failure and chronic fatigue are also associated with A-fib.
Risk Factors and Symptoms
About 6 million Americans have A-fib. Those at high risk include:
- Athletes, as A-fib can be triggered by a rapid heart rate
- Binge drinkers
- Older adults
- People with underlying heart disease or high blood pressure
- Those with sleep apnea
A fluttering heartbeat is the most common symptom of A-fib. You may also become fatigued, dizzy or short of breath, especially when exercising.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., but it's both preventable and controllable. At Porter's Center for Cardiovascular Medicine, our comprehensive services are focused on preventing and treating heart disease. To learn more, call the Center at 219-983-5188 or visit PorterHealth.com.