Cardiovascular diseases: Causes, symptoms, and treatment
Cardiovascular diseases in the broadest sense include all diseases of the heart and the circulatory system. They can be congenital, appear suddenly, or have a chronic course. For example, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, or coronary heart disease are the most frequent diseases. Numerous factors and risk factors promote the development of cardiovascular diseases, including factors such as age or family predisposition, as well as obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, and lack of exercise. A healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise can help reduce the risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Recognising heart attack symptoms: These are the first signs
An impaired cardiovascular system results in abnormal circulation, which greatly impairs patients' quality of life. For example, they can get out of breath sooner and have poorer physical performance. In the first case, the impairment of the cardiovascular system can be fatal. Therefore it is important to recognise the first signs of a heart attack in time. They include:
• Strong pain in the chest lasting more than five minutes, sometimes radiating to the left arm or to both arms, to the neck, jaw, shoulders, upper abdomen, or nape of the neck
• Massive tightness in the chest, strong pressure or burning sensation in the chest
• Paleness, grey skin colour in the face, cold sweat on the forehead and upper lip
• Shortness of breath, restlessness
• Nausea, vomiting
• Dizziness, weakness, and in some cases loss of consciousness
• Waking up in the night with chest pain
• Fear (of death)
Good to know: The symptoms of a heart attack can be very different in women than in men. For example, symptoms of a heart attack in women can be more non-specific and include nausea, vomiting, strong shortness of breath or pain in the upper abdomen. Instead of strong chest pain, women more often experience a tremendous chest pressure or tightness. As diverse as the symptoms may be, they should be taken seriously and help should be called in crucial moments.
More information about cardiovascular diseases, such as heart rhythm disorders, inflammation of the heart muscle, heart failure and how to treat them can be found, for example, on the website of the Deutsche Herzstiftung [German Heart Foundation].
Stroke: Recognising symptoms and acting fast
Circulation disorders can also affect the limbs and the brain. When someone has a stroke, every minute counts, just like with a heart attack. Possible signs of a stroke include:
• Sudden paralysis (in particular involving the arm and/or leg and/or face; drooping of the mouth on one side)
• Numbness in the arm, leg, or face on one side
• Problems with speech or loss of the ability to speak
• Comprehension deficits
• Sudden balance problems or dizziness
• Severe, sudden and barely tolerable headache
If you think this may be a stroke, call the emergency service and tell them what you think. Many hospitals now have so-called stroke units in which patients can receive optimal treatment. Information on symptoms and causes can, for example, be found on the web site of the Stiftung Deutsche Schlaganfall-Hilfe [German Foundation Stroke help]. The Deutsche Schlaganfall-Gesellschaft [German Stroke Society] put together an overview of hospitals that have stroke units.
High blood pressure: The insidious threat
A certain pressure is needed so the blood can circulate through the entire circulatory system of the body. This pressure is produced by the heart when it contracts, which causes blood to be pushed into the arteries and the blood pressure to increase. However, the blood pressure is not constant but subject to fluctuations throughout the day. Blood pressure values are much higher during the day when we are active, working, doing housework, exercising, or shopping, than when we are sleeping. Blood pressure values are separated into systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The highest value is reached when the heart has reached its maximum contraction, which is referred to as systolic blood pressure. Then the heart relaxes again and the value drops to the lowest level. This is referred to as the diastolic blood pressure. Certain processes in the body can make the blood pressure to be too high, a state referred to as hypertension.
Symptoms: How to recognise hypertension
People are often unaware that they are suffering from hypertension because hypertension does not cause pain or symptoms at first. Their physical performance is as always. This can have serious consequences for the body because the permanently elevated blood pressure can cause significant damage to the blood vessels. The risk increases of getting, e.g. angina pectoris (circulation disorder in the heart). In addition, there is an increased risk for a stroke or heart attack. In many cases the disease is discovered during routine examinations.
Treatment: How high blood pressure is treated
The goal of treating high blood pressure is to reduce the risk of secondary diseases. This is usually achieved by a combination of blood pressure-lowering drugs and general measures. The latter include giving up smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, increasing physical exercise, reducing stress factors, eating a healthy diet, and, if overweight, losing weight.
Heart failure: When the heart becomes weak
The term heart failure is used in cases where physical performance is limited due to a detect-able dysfunction of the heart. It is one of the most frequent cardiovascular diseases. In this disease the heart is no longer able to deliver the pump performance that is needed to supply the body. The time frame during which heart failure develops or manifests determines whether the disease is acute or chronic heart failure. The causes of chronic heart failure are mainly coronary heart diseases and hypertension. In rare cases the disease is caused by congenital or acquired heart defects or alcohol-induced damage to the heart.
Symptoms: How to recognise chronic heart failure
People suffering from chronic heart failure often experience:
• Shortness of breath
• Racing heart on physical exertion
• General lack of physical performance
Treatment: How chronic heart failure is treated
Treatment measures can be very different depending on the cause of heart failure. If, for example, the cause is a congenital or acquired heart defect, surgery may be considered. Otherwise, drug treatment with appropriate medication takes pressure off the heart, reduces symptoms, and prevents the disease from progressing.