Cardiovascular diseases affect more than half of the population of the UAE in one or the other form. The sufferer can be anyone, a family member, a friend or you yourself. Several studies show that more than 12% people are diagnosed with some kind of cardiovascular disease in the UAE while over 53% of the people have someone in their family or friends diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition. Cardiovascular diseases are associated with certain risk factors that can be avoided by paying just a little attention. And it is worth the effort too. Let’s take a look at everything that you must know about cardiovascular diseases, their risk factors, treatment options, preventative care and insurance options available for the sufferer.
Types of Cardiovascular Diseases
- Abnormal Heart Rhythms, Or Arrhythmias: The heart beats at a steady rate of 60 to100 beats per minute. This steady rhythm is often monitored to make sure that the body is working properly before diagnosis of any other disease. Any rhythm that is faster or slower than the normal range is categorised as abnormal by the doctors. Arrhythmia is the name that has been given to this condition. It includes too fast and too slow heartbeats as well as an uneven pattern of the heartbeat. A heartbeat that is too fast is further categorised as tachycardia while the too-slow heartbeat is known as bradycardia.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism: When blood clots form in your deep veins, a condition called deep vein thrombosis is caused. If these blood clots break loose from the deep veins and start travelling through the bloodstream causing a blockage, the condition is known as pulmonary embolism. Family history and genetic make-up can increase the risk factor of getting deep vein thrombosis. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. Apart from family history and genetics, factors like sitting for a prolonged duration, pregnancy, hormonal pills or therapy, bed rest, etc.
- Heart Failure: This does not technically mean that your heart has failed. The term heart failure seems scary and implies that the heart has completely stopped however that is never the case. In heart failure, your heart beats slower than the normal pace and pumps lesser blood. This results in salt and water retention in the body which causes swelling and breathing problems. More than 50% of the UAE population is affected by heart diseases and heart failure is a leading condition from that lot.
- Aorta Disease and Marfan Syndrome: Both these conditions are related to the aorta, the large artery in the heart which is in charge of supplying oxygen-rich blood to all the different body parts. Both these conditions can lead to widening or tearing of the aorta which can lead to further complications as well. Marfan syndrome is a genetic condition that means other risk factors have little to no effect on its occurrence. However, conditions like pregnancy can increase the risk of Marfan syndrome. Other complications that can increase the risk include heart diseases like aortic aneurysm, valve malformations, etc., skeletal complications and eye-related complications.
- Atherosclerosis (Hardened Arteries): Plaque builds up in the arteries leading to thickness and blockage which is medically termed as atherosclerosis. The plaque builds up inside the walls of the arteries which reduces the blood flow which can further cause heart attack, aneurysm, stroke, or clotting in the blood. High LDL cholesterol, low physical activity, obesity and other similar factors may cause this condition.
- Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy): Several kinds of developments in the heart muscles can lead to cardiomyopathy aka heart muscle diseases. The muscles may become enlarged, as in the case of dilated cardiomyopathy or get thickened as in the case of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. There are five different types of heart muscle diseases and each of them has a different kind of muscle development on hand. Symptoms of heart muscles diseases are very similar to any other kind of heart disease on hand. One should see the doctor immediately if they experience any symptoms because cardiomyopathy is dangerous as it can lead to heart failure as well.
- Congenital Heart Disease: A congenital heart disease occurs before the birth of the baby. Almost 8 out of every 1000 children are born with congenital heart diseases but often do not see any onset symptoms of the same until late childhood. Very few children showcase symptoms of congenital heart problems at birth. Congenital heart problems can be more than one and are related to both the heart and the arteries. Congenital heart diseases mostly happen when babies are exposed to harmful drugs or other intoxicating substances or even viruses during pregnancy.
- Pericardial Disease: This particular condition involves the pericardium which is a thin sac-like existence to separate the heart from other surrounding organs of the body which are mediastinal structures. While the pericardium is not a vital organ for human life, it serves some important functions like preventing infection and inflammation of the heart. Pericardial diseases include conditions like inflammation of the pericardium which can result in symptoms like chest pain, pericardial friction rub or changes in ECG results of the patient. Generally, two out of these 3 symptoms are required before the person can be diagnosed with pericardial diseases. Acute pericarditis is the most common type of pericardial disease making up more than 90% of the cases.
- Heart Valve Disease: The human heart has four valves which are located at the end of four chambers of the heart. When these valves stop working efficiently, heart valve disease is diagnosed. Heart valve diseases can lead to uneven flow or supply of blood in the body since the valves are responsible for blood flow. Heart valve diseases can be of two types – valvular stenosis and valvular insufficiency. Valvular stenosis happens when the valves do not open properly due to stiff leaflets. This makes pumping blood through them hard for the heart which means this condition may lead to heart failure. The second condition occurs when the valves do not close properly and become leaky. Leaky valves lead to the blood going back to the heart after it has already been pumped out. This limits the blood that is supplied to the body.
- Peripheral Vascular Disease: This cardiovascular disease causes narrowing and blockage of blood vessels in as well as outside the heart. Whether it is arteries, veins or lymphatic blood vessels of the whole body all can be affected by peripheral vascular disease. However, the legs and feet are the most affected parts. Atherosclerosis aka hardened arteries is the most common cause of peripheral disease. Plaque gathers in the arteries and the veins and hence lead to blockage. Other potential causes may include injuries caused, any development in the muscles or infections.
- Stroke: One of the deadliest diseases of the cardiovascular system of all times, stroke happens when enough blood does not reach the brain and as a result, nerve cells begin to die. This whole process happens in a matter of minutes which makes stroke a very urgent matter to deal with. The death of nerve cells happens because the brain does not get the required nutrient and oxygen that blood supplies. The early symptoms of a stroke are easily identifiable since they are not commonly observed in any other diseases or illnesses. Symptoms include paralysis, troubles in speaking and seeing, problems in walking, etc. If you suspect someone of having a stroke, ask them to smile, raise both arms, speak something or walk in a straight line. If any of these functions seem impaired, call the police immediately.
- Coronary Artery Disease (Narrowing of The Arteries): Just like atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease is blockage of arteries due to the build-up of plaque in them. Plaque leads to narrowing of the arteries which in turn leads to heart attacks.
- Rheumatic Heart Disease: When rheumatic fever causes permanent damage to the valves in the heart, rheumatic heart disease comes into play. Untreated streptococcal infections like scarlet fever or strep throat can lead to rheumatic heart diseases. Surgery is mostly the only answer to having rheumatic heart disease since there is no cure for the damage caused to the valves.
Risk Factors of Cardiovascular Diseases
- Family History: Having a family history of cardiovascular diseases also increase your own risk of having one of the many cardiovascular conditions. Family history of cardiovascular diseases is considered if your immediate male relative were diagnosed with a CVD before the age of 55 or if your immediate female relatives were diagnosed before the age of 65. People with a family history of cardiovascular diseases may have to keep a constant check on their cholesterol levels as well as blood pressure.
- Ethnicity: Folk from south Asia, Africa and the Caribbean are more prone to develop cardiovascular diseases. Diabetes, which is another risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, is also found to be more prevalent among the same ethnic groups. This increases the chances of cardiovascular diseases even further for them.
- Age: Heart conditions are known to surface mostly after the age of 50. This simply means that older people are more prone to develop heart conditions. Combining the older age with a few other risk factors that cannot be avoided like ethnicity and gender, the risk for cardiovascular diseases increases even more.
- Diabetes: A person who is suffering from diabetes, type 1 or type 2, is at risk of having their arteries damaged. Diabetes leads to a rise in blood glucose levels of the patient which in turn damages the arteries in the body and build up atheroma in the blood vessels resulting in blockage. This means a diabetic person becomes more susceptible to having a heart attack or coronary heart disease.
- Diet: What you eat makes a huge difference in many ways when health is concerned. Unhealthy eating increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by a significant margin. This includes consumption of too much trans fats, saturated fats, alcohol, etc. Consuming too much sugar and salt is another thing that should be avoided. Eating healthy in general is extremely important to take care of your heart health and make sure your risk of cardiovascular diseases is lowered.
- Physical Activities: Not getting enough exercise can lead to several health problems including cardiovascular diseases. Less physical activity often results in increased blood pressure as well as makes way for obesity. Working out about 4 times a week on a moderate level is considered to be a healthy practice. The exercise regiment can be changed as per the individual requirement of the person concerned.
- Gender: While it has been a long-standing tradition to term cardiovascular diseases as something men are susceptible to the most, it is not the case. Both men and women have almost equal chances of having cardiovascular diseases. Even when gender does not make a significant difference as a risk factor directly, it may have some indirect implications. Men tend to get more stressed and depressed as compared to women. In addition to that, men handle stress differently than women and the coping mechanism they may have is not always as healthy. The built-up stress may lead to heart complications and hence raises men’s chances of having heart conditions.
- Cholesterol Levels: LDL cholesterol or the “bad” cholesterol is a huge cause of heart diseases for both men and women. LDL cholesterol is a fatty element that is carried around by proteins in our body. When too much LDL cholesterol accumulates in our bodies, it results in artery blockage and hence leads to heart attacks. An unhealthy diet, low physical activity and consuming too much alcohol can lead to high LDL cholesterol levels.
- Obesity: As the pattern suggests, the main cause of having a heart condition is the build-up of fatty substances in the arteries. Being overweight is another risk factor that makes way for it. Not having a healthy body mass index if you do not have a lot of muscle mass can be very dangerous for your heart. Hence, eating good and maintaining a healthy weight should be one of the primary steps you take to improve your heart health.
- Hypertension: High blood pressure or hypertension results in arteries losing their elasticity. This slows down and decreases the blood flow and oxygen sent to the heart. All this results in a heart attack.
- Smoking: Chemicals that are present in the smoke of cigarettes, cigars and other similar products leads to plaque accumulation in the arteries. This can lead to several heart conditions including atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. These diseases then further make way for conditions like heart attack and heart failure.
Symptoms of Cardiovascular Diseases
Even when there are several types of heart diseases, the symptoms that come to light are quite similar in most of those conditions. For example, both heart failure and coronary heart disease can cause lightheadedness and chest pains. Given below are some of the most common symptoms of cardiovascular diseases:
- Chest Pain
- Racing Heart
- Shortness of Breath
- Neck Pain
- Swelling, in the lower part of the body
Stroke is the only cardiovascular disease that presents slightly different symptoms in combination with the common ones listed above. Even when stroke is primarily considered a disease of the nervous system, the basic disruption of function that causes it is related to the cardiovascular system. Following are the unique symptoms you can look out for to identify strokes right away.
- Numbness, weakness or discomfort in jaw, arms or leg, especially if limited to one side of the body only.
- Confusion – about speaking, seeing or simply comprehending regular things.
- Dizziness or trouble walking
- Paralysis in one or more parts of the body.
- Extensively severe headache with no explanation.
- Hearing troubles.
Cardiovascular Diseases Diagnosis
- Blood Tests: Most blood tests done to identify cardiovascular diseases figure out the levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides. Blood tests however do a lot more than just measuring cholesterol levels. They can also be used to identify blood sugar levels and diabetes which is a leading risk factor for heart diseases. Other tests include identifying the detection of c-reactive proteins and other markers which may be present in the bloodstream. The presence of these protein markers can mean inflammation of the cardiac cavity.
- Echocardiogram: Ultrasound, as well as electrodes, are used in an echocardiogram to see whether there is a blockage or leakage in the valves of the heart. An echocardiogram allows the doctors to determine if the blood flowing properly through the heart without leakages. It is often used to determine heart valve diseases.
- Electrocardiogram: This is a simple test done to determine the beats and rhythm of the heart. The patient is strapped to the mechanism and several small patches are put on their chest, arms and upper abdomen. These patches locate the heartbeat and note down its rhythm on paper. The electrical signals are passed through to detect the timings of the beats and other important functions of the heart. ECG is one of the most trust diagnosis tests to determine heart attack, arrhythmias and angina.
- Cardiac MRI: 3D pictures of the heart are created using magnetic and radio waves and a computer. Doctors can see the condition of the heart in the picture here.
- Stress Tests: Not what the name suggests, a stress test examines the effects that stressful activities like exercising have on the heart. These tests determine whether the heart can handle the stress of activities requiring physical and/or mental labour. In a stress test, the ECG mechanism patches are placed on the patient’s body while they run or exercise. For people who cannot exercise, some medicinal pills are provided to increase the heart rate equivalent to that of exercising. People with coronary heart disease and other diseases that are caused by plaque accumulation will experience shortness of breath or chest pains. ECG machines record all this as well as beat rhythm to identify the diseases.
- Cardiac Catheterization: A thin tube is used to examine the condition of the heart using a small camera. The tube is inserted via veins, groin or neck.
- Cardiac Angiography: The patients are given a dye that is injected into their veins. Then, detailed pictures of veins are taken for proper examination of plaque and other kinds of blockages.
Cardiovascular Diseases Treatment Procedures
- Coronary Angioplasty and Stent Implantation: A small balloon-like equipment is used to inflate the narrowed arteries by plaque in coronary angioplasty. In the stent insertion process, a small metal plate called a stent is inserted in the artery and left there to ensure it stays open.
- Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery (CABG): Also known as bypass surgery, a blood vessel from any part of the body (mostly arms or legs) is taken and attached to the narrowed or blocked artery. This way, the blood finds an alternate way to go about and get circulate avoiding the blocked artery.
- Thrombolytic Therapy: Blood clots are dissolved using medicines given by an IV drip system.
- Artificial Pacemaker Surgery: An artificial device known as the pacemaker is inserted into the chest cavity and connected to the heart. It supplies small electric currents to the heart ensuring its pumps regularly and properly.
- Heart Valve Surgery: Incision is made to repair the damaged valves of the chest. This surgery is used in the case of rheumatic heart diseases as well as heart valve diseases.
- Defibrillation: Paddles are placed on the chest and an electric current is used to restore the heart rhythm to its healthy state. Often, a small defibrillator is also planted in the chest to ensure that the heart beats properly at all times.
Preventive Measures for Cardiovascular Diseases
- Try and quit Smoking
- Keep Blood Pressure in Check
- Keep cholesterol levels under control
- Ensure you get regular diabetes screenings at home
- Adopt a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly as directed by the doctor or at least 4 times a week
- Find healthy coping mechanisms for stress and depression
- Maintain a healthy weight and BMI
Cardiovascular Diseases and Health Insurance
Insurance coverage for cardiovascular diseases generally depends on the kind of disease you have. Most cardiovascular diseases are covered by critical health insurance plans for example stroke. A lump-sum compensation amount is given upon submitting claims which can be used as the policyholder sees fit. Patients with cardiovascular diseases can also get health insurance covers after being diagnosed with a condition. However, the pre-existing condition clause comes in effect here and hence the premiums are slightly higher. A waiting period of 6 months to 2 years will also be applicable.
In a Nutshell
Cardiovascular diseases can be easily prevented and managed if you choose to act timely. However, mitigating away from such deadly disorders requires constant work and a proper management of the disease. Just make sure to eat a balanced diet and work out five times a week maintain a healthy BMI and waist circumference. A few simple steps can significantly reduce your risk of developing a cardiovascular condition. Have a good health insurance plan in place if you are at an increased for developing any such conditions and you’ll be sorted.