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Cardiac conditions

At Dignity Health Medical Foundation, we believe in the importance of educating the community about the cardiac diseases we treat. Learn more below about common conditions, what the symptoms are and how you can treat or prevent these conditions. 


Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that starts in the upper parts (atria) of the heart. Normally, the heart beats in a strong, steady rhythm. In atrial fibrillation, a problem with the heart’s electrical system causes the atria to quiver, or fibrillate. The quivering upsets the normal rhythm between the atria and the lower parts (ventricles) of the heart. The lower parts may beat fast and without a regular rhythm. Atrial fibrillation is dangerous because it greatly increases the risk of stroke. If the heart doesn't beat strongly, blood can collect, or pool, in the atria. Pooled blood is more likely to form clots. If the heart pumps a clot into the bloodstream, the clot can travel to the brain and block blood flow, causing a stroke. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range.

Common symptoms

Dizziness, lightheaded, feeling out of breath, feeling weak and tired, heart palpitations, uneven heartbeats, chest pain, fainting.


Don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet, exercise, lower your stress level, control your cholesterol, and control your blood pressure.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries as it moves through your body. When blood pressure is high, it starts to damage the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, and other problems. Your blood pressure consists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. Someone with a systolic pressure of 120 and a diastolic pressure of 80 has a blood pressure of 120/80, or "120 over 80." The systolic number shows how hard the blood pushes when the heart is pumping. The diastolic number shows how hard the blood pushes between heartbeats when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.

Adults should have a blood pressure of less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. Many people fall into the category in between, called prehypertension. People with prehypertension need to make lifestyle changes to bring the blood pressure down and help prevent or delay high blood pressure.


Causes include being very overweight, drinking too much alcohol, having a family history of high blood pressure, eating too much salt, and getting older. Your blood pressure may also rise if you are not very active, you don't eat enough potassium and calcium, or you have a condition called insulin resistance. Very high blood pressure can cause headaches, vision problems, nausea, and vomiting.


Treatment depends on how high your blood pressure is, whether you have other health problems such as diabetes, and whether any organs have already been damaged. Your doctor will also consider how likely you are to develop other diseases, especially heart disease.


Lose extra weight, exercise, limit alcohol, cut back on salt, quit smoking, and eat a healthy diet.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when fatty deposits called “plaque” build up inside the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries wrap around the heart and supply it with blood and oxygen. When plaque builds up, it narrows the arteries and reduces the amount of blood that gets to your heart. This can lead to serious problems, including heart attacks. Coronary artery disease (also called CAD) is the most common type of heart disease. It can be a shock to find out that you have coronary artery disease. Many people only find out when they have a heart attack. When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the heart doesn't get the blood it needs to work well. Over time, this can weaken or damage the heart. If a plaque tears, the body tries to fix the tear by forming a blood clot around it. The clot can block blood flow to the heart and cause a heart attack.

Common symptoms

Chest pain, shortness of breath, heart attack

Less Common Symptoms

 Fast heartbeat, stomach sickness, increased sweating


Don’t smoke, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and lower your stress level.

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease refers to a problem with the heart's structure and function due to abnormal heart development before birth. Congenital means present at birth. 

Congenital heart disease can describe a number of different problems affecting the heart. According to the American Heart Association, about 35,000 babies are born each year with some type of congenital heart defect. Some heal over time and others require treatment. While congenital heart disease is present at birth, the symptoms may not be immediately obvious. Some defects may not cause problems for many years while other problems may never cause any problems. Some congenital heart diseases can be treated with medication alone, while others require one or more surgeries. Congenital heart disease is often divided into two types: cyanotic (blue discoloration caused by a relative lack of oxygen) and non-cyanotic. No known cause can be identified for most congenital heart defects. Drugs such as retinoic acid for acne, chemicals, alcohol, and infections (such as Rubella) during pregnancy can contribute to some congenital heart problems.

Symptoms & Treatment

Depends on the specific condition. Most congenital heart diseases require medications and/or surgery to repair the defect.


Do not use alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy. Doctors should be made aware that a woman is pregnant before prescribing any medications for her. A blood test should be done early in the pregnancy to see if the woman is immune to Rubella. If the mother is not immune, she must avoid any possible exposure to Rubella and should be immunized immediately following delivery. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels in women who have diabetes during pregnancy are also associated with a high rate of congenital heart defects during pregnancy. Experts believe that some prescription and over-the-counter medications and street drugs used during pregnancy increase the risk of heart defects. There may be some hereditary factors that play a role in congenital heart disease.


In dyslipidemia, there is typically an imbalance in the levels of these lipids, which can lead to health problems. The two primary types of lipids involved in dyslipidemia are:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Often referred to as "good cholesterol," HDL cholesterol helps remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream and transport it to the liver for processing.

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: Known as "bad cholesterol," LDL cholesterol can build up in the arteries, forming plaques that narrow and block blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Dyslipidemia can manifest in different ways, including high levels of LDL cholesterol, low levels of HDL cholesterol, or elevated triglycerides. It is considered a significant risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, as well as other health conditions.

How do you treat dyslipidemia?

The treatment for dyslipidemia typically involves a combination of lifestyle modifications and, in some cases, medications. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing HDL cholesterol, ultimately lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Here are the key components of treatment:

  • Lifestyle changes:

    • Focus on a heart-healthy diet: As mentioned earlier, adopting a diet low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol, while emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, can significantly impact lipid levels.

    • Incorporate regular exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling, can help raise HDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and contribute to weight management.

    • Manage your weight: Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important, as obesity can worsen dyslipidemia. Weight loss can improve lipid profiles.

    • Stop smoking: Quitting smoking is crucial, as smoking can lower HDL cholesterol and contribute to cardiovascular problems.

    • Limit alcohol consumption: If you consume alcohol, do so in moderation, as excessive alcohol intake can raise triglyceride levels.

  • Medications: When lifestyle modifications alone are not sufficient to control dyslipidemia, your Dignity Health Medical Group obesity medicine provider may prescribe medications. 

  • Manage any underlying conditions: If dyslipidemia is associated with other conditions such as diabetes or hypertension, effective management of these conditions is essential for overall cardiovascular health.

Heart Failure

Heart failure means that your heart muscle does not pump as much blood as your body needs. Failure does not mean that your heart has stopped. It means that your heart is not pumping as well as it should. Because your heart cannot pump well, your body may try to make up for it by holding onto salt and water to increase the amount of blood in your bloodstream or your heart may beat faster or get bigger.

Your body has an amazing ability to make up for heart failure. It may do such a good job that you don't know you have a disease. But at some point, your body will no longer be able to keep up. Your heart gets worn out. Then fluid starts to build up in your body, and you have symptoms like feeling weak and out of breath. This fluid buildup is called congestion. This is called congestive heart failure. Heart failure can get worse suddenly. If this happens, you will need emergency care. To prevent sudden heart failure, you need to avoid things that can trigger it. These include eating too much salt, missing a dose of your medicine and exercising too hard. Heart failure usually gets worse over time. But treatment can slow the disease and help you feel better and live longer. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range.


Coronary artery disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart valve disease, arrhythmias, alcohol abuse prevention


Fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, weakness, dizziness, swelling, weight gain, coughing or wheezing, and excessive urinating.


Eat less salt, exercise, rest, don’t smoke, limit alcohol, and keep track of your symptoms.

Want to learn more?

Click here to listen to Dr. Roberts discuss heart rhythm disorders and treatment options on Dignity Health’s Hello Healthy Podcast.

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