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Heart Diseases

If you're like most people, you think that heart disease is a problem for others. But heart disease is the number one killer in the U.S. It is also a major cause of disability. There are many different forms of heart disease. The most common cause of heart disease is narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. This is called coronary artery disease and happens slowly over time. It's the major reason people have heart attacks.

Other kinds of heart problems may happen to the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and cause heart failure. Some people are born with heart disease.

You can help reduce your risk of heart disease by taking steps to control factors that put you at greater risk:

  • Control your blood pressure
  • Lower your cholesterol
  • Don't smoke
  • Get enough exercise

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Attack

Each year almost 800,000 Americans have a heart attack. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked. Without the blood coming in, the heart can't get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle begins to die. But if you do get quick treatment, you may be able to prevent or limit damage to the heart muscle. That's why it's important to know the symptoms of a heart attack and call 911 if you or someone else is having them. You should call, even if you are not sure that it is a heart attack.

The most common symptoms in men and women are

  • Chest discomfort. It is often in center or left side of the chest. It usually lasts more than a few minutes. It may go away and come back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion.
  • Shortness of breath. Sometimes this is your only symptom. You may get it before or during the chest discomfort. It can happen when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
  • Discomfort in the upper body. You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach.

You may also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and lightheadedness. You may break out in a cold sweat. Sometimes women will have different symptoms then men. For example, they are more likely to feel tired for no reason.

The most common cause of heart attacks is coronary artery disease (CAD). With CAD, there is a buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls or the arteries. This is atherosclerosis. It can build up for years. Eventually an area of plaque can rupture (break open). A blood clot can form around the plaque and block the artery.

A less common cause of heart attack is a severe spasm (tightening) of a coronary artery. The spasm cuts off blood flow through the artery.

At the hospital, health care providers make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, blood tests, and different heart health tests. Treatments may include medicines and medical procedures such as coronary angioplasty. After a heart attack, cardiac rehabilitation and lifestyle changes can help you recover.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.

CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls. This buildup is called atherosclerosis. As it grows, less blood can flow through the arteries. As a result, the heart muscle can't get the blood or oxygen it needs. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts' blood supply, causing permanent heart damage.

Over time, CAD can also weaken the heart muscle and contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means the heart can't pump blood well to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped or is about to stop working. It means that your heart is not able to pump blood the way it should. It can affect one or both sides of the heart.

The weakening of the heart's pumping ability causes

  • Blood and fluid to back up into the lungs
  • The buildup of fluid in the feet, ankles and legs - called edema
  • Tiredness and shortness of breath

Common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. It is more common in people who are 65 years old or older, African Americans, people who are overweight, and people who have had a heart attack. Men have a higher rate of heart failure than women.

Your doctor will diagnose heart failure by doing a physical exam and heart tests. Treatment includes treating the underlying cause of your heart failure, medicines, and heart transplantation if other treatments fail.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding offers many benefits to your baby. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients to help your infant grow into a strong and healthy toddler. Some of the nutrients in breast milk also help protect your infant against some common childhood illnesses and infections. It may also help your health. Certain types of cancer may occur less often in mothers who have breastfed their babies.

Women who don't have health problems should try to give their babies breast milk for at least the first six months of life. Most women with health problems can breastfeed. There are rare exceptions when women are advised not to breastfeed because they have certain illnesses. Some medicines, illegal drugs, and alcohol can also pass through the breast milk and cause harm to your baby. Check with your health care provider if you have concerns about whether you should breastfeed.

If you are having problems with breastfeeding, contact a lactation consultant.

NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development