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Protecting yourself from 4 cardiac conditions

We hear a lot about heart attacks—from how to reduce your risk to recognizing the signs and symptoms. But that’s not the only thing that could be putting your heart in the line of fire.

We’ll explain four other heart hazards to watch for and offer tips to help you avoid them.

1.  Cardiomyopathy

What happens:

“The heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick and rigid, so it can’t pump effectively,” explains Jake Chemmalakuzhy, M.D., an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Medical Center at Carrollton and Baylor Medical Center at Irving.

“The condition can be mild and almost unnoticeable to severe, leading to arrhythmias and even heart failure.”

Symptoms:

Shortness of breath, swelling and fatigue.

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Who’s at risk:

Those with a family history of cardiomyopathy, heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest are at increased risk.

Also at higher risk are those who have had a heart attack or other heart-damaging disease; those with coronary artery disease (CAD), diabetes or high blood pressure; and those who are obese, Dr. Chemmalakuzhy says.

2.  Arrhythmia/Atrial Fibrillation

What happens:

“The heart’s rhythm is disturbed, and the heart beats too fast, too slowly or irregularly,” said Trieu Ho, MD, an electrophysiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine.

One of the most common types of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, which causes the heart’s chambers to quiver instead of pump and “can lead to blood clotting and pooling, resulting in an increased risk of stroke,” Dr. Ho said.

Symptoms:

A fluttering sensation in the chest racing or slow heartbeat, lightheadedness, shortness of breath or fainting.

Who’s at risk:

Individuals with CAD or a congenital heart defect, and those who have had a previous heart attack, are at higher risk for arrhythmia.

“People who smoke, drink excessively, have high blood pressure, are obese or who have sleep apnea also have an increased risk,” Dr. Ho said.

3.  Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

What happens:

“The heart loses its ability to pump efficiently, and excessive fluid begins to build up in the body as a result,” Dr. Chemmalakuzhy said.

Symptoms:

Body swelling, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue.

Who’s at risk:

People with existing CAD and those who have a weakened heart due to prior heart attack are at a higher risk for CHF, Dr. Chemmalakuzhy says.

Also at increased risk are individuals who are obese, have diabetes or have severe emphysema.

4.  Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

What happens:

“The electrical impulse of the heart malfunctions and the heart suddenly, unexpectedly stops beating,” Dr. Ho said.

Symptoms:

Sudden collapse and unconsciousness, with no pulse or breathing. Fatigue, shortness of breath, fainting, dizziness, heart palpitations and vomiting may occur before the onset of SCA.

Who’s at risk:

People who smoke, have high cholesterol or an enlarged heart, or have a family history of SCA are at increased risk. Individuals with CAD or who have had previous heart attacks are at especially high risk, Dr. Ho says.

“Seventy-five percent of people who suffered SCA have experienced a previous heart attack.”

Find help for your heart. For a referral to a cardiologist on the Baylor Scott & White medical staff, visit BaylorHealth.com/Dallas or call 1-800-4BAYLOR.

This content originally appeared in the September 2013 edition of Baylor Health Magazine.

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Protecting yourself from 4 cardiac conditions