Ischemic heart disease, also known as myocardial ischemia, is a condition of the heart where the heart muscles are damaged or do not work as efficiently due to a reduced blood supply to the heart. The decreased blood flow is most often caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. The risk of getting this disease increases with age, and is more prevalent among smokers than non-smokers. Also at risk are people with diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure (people suffering from hypertension), and individuals who have family history of the disease.
The most serious symptom is chest pain, which can indicate a heart attack (also known as cardiac arrest). This is felt as a tightening or weighing down of the chest and upper body parts including the neck, jaws, and shoulders. Chest pains might also be the result of various other causes such as anxiety or panic attacks, or even something milder such as heartburn or angina. Angina pectoris is a generic term for any type of chest pains, and sadly sometimes the cause of angina is attributed to milder reasons such as heartburn through indigestion whereas it may be indicative of ischemic heart disease. If you are experiencing chronic chest pains it is imperative to stop smoking (if you are a smoker) and consult a physician for a full and thorough diagnostic of the heart and blood vessels to check for constriction of blood supply to major vital organs.
Related to the chest pain symptom is the feeling of discomfort in upper body parts similar to that resulting from a flatulent stomach. It may or may not be accompanied by a choking feeling or breathlessness, which might indicate not enough blood flowing to the lungs or a restricted blood supply to and from the pulmonary arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood to the lungs) causing fluids to be accumulated in the lungs.
Lack of ease in breathing can be confused with other symptoms, not all of which are indicative of severe heart diseases but might be serious illnesses in their own regard. This might be caused by pneumonia (a lung disease caused by certain bacteria and fungi) or pulmonary embolism (a blocked lung blood vein often resulting from a blood clot). For smokers emphysema is also a major cause, which is a chronic and progressive degeneration of the lower respiratory tracts from the constant inhalation of tobacco smoke and deposit of a layer of tar (hydrocarbons present in tobacco) on the lungs inner walls.
Orthopnea is another symptom, whereby the patient has difficulty of breathing lying down or sleeping (dyspnea) unless propped up by pillows from the waist up. This is common in victims of asthma or bronchitis, and might also show up as pulmonary oedema (fluid build-up in the lungs). If the other causes can be ruled out than most likely these symptoms indicate a presence of ischemic heart disease.
Cardiomegaly, or the condition of heart enlargement, can also be a possible consequence of ischemic heart disease. This is where the muscular walls of the heart increase in thickness resulting in an abnormally large size of the heart. Other possible causes include general heart failure, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high fat diet, and smoking. Sometimes the reason could be a congenital heart block, which is a genetic condition whereby few unlucky children are born with a block in their hurt and as they grow older in leads to cardiomegaly. Some viral infections and autoimmune diseases need to be ruled out as potential causes too before concluding that the condition is a direct result of ischemic heart disease.
Peripheral oedema, which is a specific type of oedema whereby fluids build up in the extremities of the body, i.e. limbs (arms and legs) and belly, is another symptom of the disease. The cause is again related to the fact of not enough blood being supplied to various peripheral tissues and organs of the body, hence the fluids retention leading to gain in body weight. Watch for sudden increases in weight in a short span of time, for example about 2kgs in 2 days. Apart from heart failure, peripheral oedema might also result from various kidney malfunctions, a thyroid condition, a liver failure, or lymphydema (swelling caused by lymphatic fluid retention, a close relative of the blood fluids). Also in need of elimination are obvious hormonal conditions such as pregnancy and premenstrual syndrome, which can also cause peripheral oedema.
Cardiac arrhythmia, or the occurrence of an abnormal rhythm of the heart, is another symptom. Other causes include excessive alcohol consumption, some specific diet pills side effect, excessive caffeine intake, tobacco use, and inordinate and persistent stress in daily life. Sometime the blood sugar levels imbalance, a type of hypoglycaemia where blood sugar falls below normal levels, can also result in cardiac arrhythmia. The best way to eliminate the other causes in to ensure there is no family genetic disorder of diabetes, and to moderate or eliminate consumption of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. If in doubt if this symptom is the direct result of ischemic heart disease please consult your physician for an immediate diagnosis.
Due to the various symptoms listed above and their innumerable possible causes other than ischemic heart disease, it is always recommended to get a thorough diagnosis from a reliable physician or hospital. There are some home diagnosis tools and methods available, but they should only be used to verify and monitor an existing condition as per the doctor’s prescription, or to eliminate certain sources as the cause of some symptoms.