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Revise the key topics; Heart failure, hypertension, valvular disease and arrhythmias, which have been covered this week on this free online course.
This week, we’ve been learning about four more cardiovascular diseases, heart failure, hypertension, valvular diseases, and arrhythmias. We started with heart failure. Heart failure is the progressive failing of the heart as a mechanical pump, and this usually occurs due to damage to the heart, for example, acute damage, such as a heart attack, or over work, such as prolonged hypertension or valvular diseases. Due to the role of the heart pumping blood around the body, it never gets the chance to fully rest and recover. Instead, it undergoes several adaptations that enable it to prolong its function for as long as possible. Hypertension or high blood pressure is probably the biggest predictor of cardiovascular diseases.
It’s defined by systolic pressure above 140 millimetres of mercury, and/or a diastolic pressure above 90. It’s caused by stiffening or narrowing of the arteries. And this disrupts our ability to contract and relax, changing their diameter and regulating the pressure within the circulatory system. Valvular disease is caused by damage or disease to the heart valves, and can affect any of the four heart valves. In the UK, it most commonly occurs due to wear and tear that’s associated with ageing. And as such, the valves on the left side of the heart are more commonly affected. That’s the mitral valve and aortic valve.
The heart valves can become stenotic - that’s narrowed - which makes it harder for the blood to get through them. Or they can become regurgitant, or leaky. Both of these effects reduces the efficiency of the heart. Lastly, we looked at arrhythmias. Arrhythmias are irregular heartbeats, and they can vary in severity, ranging from relatively harmless to being fatal. With each of the cardiovascular diseases we’ve been learning about, the heart undergoes some amazing adaptations that help it prolong its function, often for many years. But eventually, the disease, the damage, and the over work cause the heart to beat more erratically. And at some point, it will be unable to provide sufficient blood and oxygen to the body’s tissues, and then death occurs.
Sometimes the heart can be defibrillated, or shocked back into a regular heart rhythm. But this depends upon the degree of severity of the damage to the heart in the first place that caused it to beat erratically. Defibrillators are now found fairly commonly in public places, such as railway stations and shopping centres. And this really does show the progress that we’ve made in the last few decades. Next week, we’ll be changing track slightly. We’ll be turning our attention to the risk factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing cardiovascular diseases, and the ways that people can try to slow down or prevent them from occurring.

Dr Natasha Barrett reflects on what we have learnt this week about heart failure, hypertension, valvular disease and arrhythmias. Let us know what you think of this week. Have you been surprised by anything that you’ve learnt? Has anything you’ve learnt changed your opinions or influenced your lifestyle?

Share your thoughts in the discussion below. Take some time to read and respond to, or ‘Like’ posts by other learners.

Next week

Having learnt about what a healthy heart and a diseased heart is, in the final week you’ll take a look at the various factors that affect heart health, such as age, genes and cholesterol. you’ll also investigate the benefits of a well balanced diet and physical activity for maintaining a healthy heart and look at how your food and activity diary can be used to keep track and understand patterns in your own life.

Further resources

Throughout this course we provide links to resources and websites that contain valuable supplementary information. You may like to discover more about this week’s topics by following the links below, and feel free to share your own links with others in the comments.

Suitable for beginners

You can carry out further self-study by reading the chapter(s) on cardiovascular diseases in any pathophysiology textbook.

You can explore specific cardiovascular diseases on several recommended websites:

You can find UK based training courses for first aid and use of defibrillators from a variety of providers including:

If you live outside the UK, please share links to any organisations that offer first aid training in your country in the comments.

Suitable for more experienced learners

PubMed – Once you have put in your search terms and obtained a list of possible articles, try selecting “free full text” from the left hand menu to display articles that you will be able to access.

There are many journal articles freely available due to the public funding that led to the research. We advise against paying for articles to read for this course. If you find any great articles, do share this with others by posting a brief summary of the paper, a comment on the reliability of the paper along with the reference and a link to the paper if possible.

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Heart Health: A Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease

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