Heart diseases explained | Symptoms and treatments for cardiac conditions

Heart-related issues can impact people from all walks of life. In the UK, more than 7 million people grapple with heart and circulatory conditions, and these diseases are responsible for nearly 170,000 deaths. Dr Bhavik Modi, a Consultant Cardiologist at the Nuffield Health Leicester Hospital, delves into the workings of the heart and highlights common warning signs you should look out for.

How does your heart work?

The main function of the heart is to pump blood around the body. Blood is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body and carrying away toxins, carbon dioxide, and other waste from the tissue.

The coronary arteries, supply blood directly to the heart muscle to enable it to beat commonly between 60-100 times per minute. The heartbeat is kept steady through a specific network of electrical connections within the heart. If these electrical connections are disturbed, the heart can end up beating irregularly, either too fast or too slowly.

What are the common heart diseases?

  • Coronary artery disease: this disease often results in angina and heart attacks, is the most common heart problem. It is characterised by narrowings or blockages in the coronary arteries, which supply blood directly to the heart muscle.
  • Heart arrhythmias: if the heart’s electrical connections are disturbed, the heart can end up beating irregularly, either too fast or too slowly.
  • Heart failure: this is described as a long-term reduction in the heart’s pumping capability due to conditions such as coronary heart disease, thyroid disorders, cardiomyopathy, or hypertension. 
  • Heart valve disease: your heart contains valves that direct the movement of blood between the four chambers of the heart, the lungs, and blood vessels. Valve disease is characterised by an abnormality of these valves that impairs their proper opening and closing. 
  • Congenital heart disease: this refers to the heart defects people are born with.
  • Endocarditis: this is an infection that occurs inside the heart.

Signs and symptoms to watch out for

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease, often called CAD for short, is when blood vessels that supply your heart with blood become narrowed or blocked. Symptoms of CAD can include:

  • chest pain 
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in the neck, jaw, or arms. 

You may not know you have coronary artery disease until you have a heart attack, arrhythmia, angina, stroke, or heart failure.

Heart arrhythmias

An abnormality in heart rhythm is called an arrhythmia. Symptoms of arrhythmia often include:  

  • palpitations or fluttering in the chest
  • feeling faint or light headed
  • breathlessness.

Heart failure and disease of the heart muscle 

Some of the more common signs of heart failure can include:

  • shortness of breath
  • swollen feet
  • general fatigue.

I'm concerned about my heart rate, what should I do?

If arrhythmia is suspected, the following tests may be recommended by your Cardiologist to establish a diagnosis. 

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) – heart tracing
  • Blood tests (including thyroid function)
  • A 24 hour, 72 hour or 7-day ECG heart monitor
  • Echocardiogram – to look for structural heart abnormalities that can cause arrhythmia
  • Cardiac MRI – to further look for structural heart abnormalities that can cause abnormalities (but also to assess if there is a problem with the heart’s blood supply)
  • An implantable loop recorder – a small monitor under the skin to interrogate symptoms that occur infrequently.

Improve your heart health and reduce the risk of contracting common heart diseases with these five tips.

What treatments are available?

Once a diagnosis is made, the Cardiologist can initiate medication or therapy for common arrhythmias (such as Atrial Fibrillation or Ventricular Ectopics). In the rare occasions, further intervention is indicated in the form of a pacemaker, defibrillators or ablations, your Cardiologist can refer you to relevant specialists that specialise in these procedures.

Speak to a professional

Dr Bhavik Modi is an experienced Cardiologist based at the Nuffield Health Leicester Hospital. He specialises in all aspects of heart disease and is a leading expert in managing chest pain, breathlessness, heart attacks and optimising risk factors for heart disease.

If you experience any of the symptoms above and would like to book an appointment with Dr Bhavik Modi, please click here for further information or call 0300 131 1416 to speak to our in-house team.

Last updated Tuesday 2 January 2024

First published on Friday 27 October 2023