What’s the difference between congenital and coronary heart disease? And could those palpitations be a cause for concern? We take a look at some of the most common types of heart problem affecting people in the UK.
Coronary heart disease (CHD)
The most common form of heart and circulatory disease and the biggest killer in the UK, CHD is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. This causes them to narrow, restricting the flow of blood to your heart and brain, and potentially leading to heart attack and stroke.
Angina, which causes pain and feelings of tightness or heaviness in the chest, is usually a symptom of CHD and occurs when the supply of blood to the heart is restricted. It tends to be triggered by physical exertion, emotional upset, cold weather or a heavy meal, and affects about two million people in the UK.
Many people experience abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmia, from time to time. Most abnormal rhythms, such as palpitations and ectopic beats (an extra heartbeat), are innocent, but they may indicate a problem with the sinus node (the heart’s natural pacemaker). Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of arrhythmia and is associated with stroke, so any abnormal heart rhythms should be checked out.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle and often runs in families, although in many cases there’s no obvious cause. There are three main types of cardiomyopathy and all three cause problems with how the heart pumps blood around the body. While the condition can’t be cured, there are many effective treatments that can help to manage it.
Congenital heart disease
About nine in every 1,000 babies is born with a heart defect, or congenital heart disease. For many, the problem is minor and doesn’t need treatment; others may need medication or surgery. Congenital heart disease may be detected at an antenatal ultrasound scan but sometimes isn’t obvious until after the birth. In most cases, there is no known cause.
Heart valve disease
The heart contains valves that make sure that blood flows through it only in the correct direction. Sometimes, however, a valve can become diseased or damaged, obstructing the flow of blood or causing it to leak back into the heart. This puts extra strain on the heart. Most valve problems can be treated with medication or surgery.
For more on heart health and heart conditions, visit the British Heart Foundation or take a look at benenden health's healthy heart section.
Members of benenden health can contact the 24-hour GP advice line if they are concerned about their health and would like to speak to a doctor.