Many Symptoms of Heart Attack and Heart Disease: A Complex Condition

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Heart disease covers a wide range of conditions that affect the heart, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmia and congenital heart diseases. Cardiologist Todd Villines, MD, speaks to the many symptoms of heart disease, as well as prevention measures and treatment offered by UVA’s team of specialists.

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Heart disease is a very broad term. I think most people who think of heart disease think of
heart attacks or coronary artery disease, and that certainly is the most common form of heart disease. But it’s certainly much broader than that.

It includes things such as diseases at the heart muscle, or heart failure where the heart doesn’t either contract or relax normally. It includes valve diseases, diseases of the electrical system of the heart, and even diseases of the lining of the heart.

I think most people associate chest pain, chest pressure or chest discomfort as a sign of heart disease. That certainly is the most common symptom that we see in patients who present with coronary artery disease or heart disease. But it’s broader than that. We know that many other symptoms can be a sign of heart disease. These include breathlessness, shortness of breath, the inability to do exercises that someone could once do quite easily, fatigue even, patients who come in with rapid heartbeats, swelling in the ankles, really just a change in their ability to do their routine activities.

Heart disease is really a complex condition that can be caused by many factors. Of course, coronary artery disease, which is a buildup of plaque in the heart arteries. It can be caused by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, not being active. Genetics can play a role as well.

We know that treating those conditions not only helps patients with established heart disease, but helps prevent coronary artery disease from ever forming in the first place. When patients come in with new symptoms that are concerning for heart disease, not only can they see us in various locations, but they have access to the advanced diagnostic testing that they may need.

We have all forms of stress testing and all forms of imaging. We have all of the specialists that someone would ever need to evaluate them and care for them when they come to see us.


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