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Heart & Vascular Institute

Understanding Heart & Vascular Disease

The best way to beat heart and vascular disease is to avoid it in the first place or catch it early. That's why cardiologists and surgeons at Temple put great emphasis on prevention and early detection.

We encourage all of our website visitors to learn about the most common causes and symptoms of heart and vascular disease in the following sections:

How the Heart & Blood Vessels Work

The heart pumps blood throughout the body. The walls of the heart are thick muscles that contract (beat) when they get an electrical signal, about once per second. Valves inside the heart open and close exactly on time to keep blood flowing smoothly in the right direction.

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Heart & Vascular Problems

One heart problem often leads to another. For example, an irregular heart beat can cause heart failure, and a blocked coronary artery can upset the heartbeat. These problems can lead to symptoms such as palpitations, weakness, swelling, or shortness of breath; they can also cause deadly conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, or cardiac arrest.

The main trouble spots for vascular disease are the neck arteries leading to the brain (carotid arteries), the leg arteries and veins, the aorta, and the arteries supplying the kidneys and intestines. These problems can lead to blocked blood flow or life-threatening strokes, lung clots, kidney failure, infections, or internal bleeding.

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Risk Factors

Anybody can get heart disease or vascular disease. But many people have no early symptoms of disease. That's why you should know the "risk factors"—the conditions or lifestyle choices that increase your chances of having heart and vascular disease.

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Symptoms

Many people have no early symptoms of heart or vascular disease. When they do occur, some symptoms point clearly to one condition. Other symptoms are general and vague—possibly due to any number of diseases.

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When to Get Checked

Early testing is best. Many drugs and simple procedures are now available to reduce risk, help you feel better, and avoid major surgery.

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Avoiding Amputations

Major amputations are still essential in certain life-threatening situations or in cases of overwhelming infection or uncontrollable pain. But most patients would do anything to avoid this independence-robbing surgery. And the evidence shows that most amputations in patients with diabetes or other circulatory problems can indeed be prevented.

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