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Quick guide: Heart disease

Heart disease refers to conditions related to the heart muscle, such as heart attack, arrhythmia, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, pericardial disease, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease. Left untreated, heart disease can lead to a limited lifestyle or sudden death.


The most common contributing causes to heart disease are:

  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Atherosclerosis
  • High homocysteine levels
  • Hypertension
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Abdominal fat
  • Vitamin D deficient
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress


Different types of heart disease have many symptoms in common. These symptoms can vary to some degree, even for the same disease, depending on the severity of your condition and your gender.

Typical symptoms include: shortness of breath, limited ability to exercise, chest pain or pressure (occurs usually with exercise or physical activity, but can also occur with rest or after meals), pain radiating from the chest to the neck, arms and/or back, swelling of the lower extremities, weakness, fatigue, palpitations, sweating, nausea, dizziness/lightheadedness.

If you experience any of these symptoms call your doctor. If your symptoms are severe, call 911.

Treatment Options

Depending on the type of heart disease you have and the severity of your condition, your treatment may include medication, surgery and/or lifestyle changes. Follow your doctor's directions to live a longer, healthier life.


The best prevention is simply living a healthy lifestyle:

  • Don't smoke
  • Avoid second-hand smoke
  • Avoid saturated fat (from meat and dairy), trans fatty acids and processed foods with hydrogenated vegetable oils
  • Limit your intake of salt
  • Moderate alcohol consumption
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, poultry and fish
  • Exercise
  • Get tested for heart disease regularly if you have high blood pressure or high levels of cholesterol, triglycerides or glucose
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Doctors prescribe medication for some patients who have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.

For more information go to's Heart Health page.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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