Heart disease
Cardiac problems/ angina pectoris / acute coronary syndrome / acute myocardial infarction/ heart failure

The heart is a hollow muscle about the size of a clenched fist. This muscle contracts at least 100,000 times per day and pumps the blood throughout the body. Various problems in and around the heart can result in severe symptoms.

heart anatomy left right atrium valve artery vein

In this article we will discuss a number of problems that can cause cardiac symptoms. Please seek advice from a GP immediately if you recognise these symptoms.

Description of the condition

An infarction or heart attack stops the flow of blood via the coronary arteries to the heart. Part of the heart muscle will be starved of oxygen and will no longer contract. If this area goes without oxygen for too long, it will gradually start to die. Scar tissue comprised of dead cells will form at the site where the muscle cells died.

A disrupted pump functioning of the heart is referred to as heart failure. A distinction is made between systolic heart failure and diastolic heart failure. In the case of systolic heart failure, the heart muscle does not contract forcefully enough and the blood is pumped less effectively. In the case of diastolic heart failure, the heart muscle does not relax properly between contractions. As a result, the hollow muscle does not fill entirely with blood.

Other problems include: arrhythmias (the heart beats too quickly, too slowly or irregularly); conditions affecting the heart valves (the heart valves do not close properly or are narrowed, causing the heart to have to work harder); heart muscle disease (a thickening or dilation of the heart muscle, resulting in decreased pumping strength); high blood pressure (in the case of high blood pressure, the heart has to pump against high pressure. The heart produces more muscle to achieve this and becomes thicker as a result).

Cause and origin

Depending on the type of heart problem, the symptoms can develop gradually or acutely. Sometimes the symptoms are only present during physical exertion. In other cases they are also present at rest. Various risk factors determine the chances of developing cardiovascular disease:

  • Smoking.
  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Being overweight.
  • Diabetes.
  • Stress.
  • Unhealthy diet.
  • Not enough exercise.
  • Genetics: cardiovascular disease in father, mother, brother or sister before the age of 65 years.
  • Increased age.
  • Gender (male).

Signs & symptoms

Each type of heart problem has its own symptoms and can present differently in each unique case. An overview is provided below of the important signs and symptoms that could be related to the heart.

  • Pressing or tight feeling across the chest (angina pectoris).
  • The pain can radiate to the (left) arm, shoulder, neck or jaws.
  • Shortness of breath, feeling of tightness.
  • Reduced capacity for exertion (tired more easily with activities).
  • Palpitations (the unpleasant awareness of the heart beat).
  • Fainting.
  • Feeling unwell, nausea.
  • Clammy, pale or ashen skin tone.
  • Swelling of the limbs.
  • The pain is not linked to movements of the trunk (bending, stretching, twisting).




You can check your symptoms using the online physiotherapy check or make an appointment with a physiotherapy practice in your area.

heart attack coronary artery anatomy

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Rutten, F.H., Bohnen, A.M., Schreuder, B.P., Pupping, M.D.A. & Bouma, M. (2004). NHG-standaard. Stabiele angina pectoris. Tweede herziening. Huisarts Wet. 2004; 47(2):83-95.
Rutten, F.H., Grundmeijer, H.GL.M., Grijseels, E.W.M., Bentum, S.T.B. van, Hendrick, J.M.A., Bouma, M., Eizenga, W. & Pinxteren, B. van (2003). NHG-standaard. Acuut coronair syndroom. Huisarts Wet. 2003; 46(14):831-43.

heart anatomy left right atrium valve artery vein
heart attack coronary artery anatomy

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