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Heart Diseases

The Critical Arteries

Mackenzie's observations about coronary arteries reflected growing interest in the blood vessels leading to and from the heart. It had long before been observed by Da Vinci and others that a hardening occurred in blood vessels in some people. But the first well-documented report of coronary artery disease was presented by William Heberden, a British physician, in 1772. He named the condition angina pectoris, drawing the term from the Greek agkhone for strangling. He said that the condition tended to get worse and that patients often experienced it when walking. Heberden noted that when patients with this condition died, their aortas resembled bone or a bony-like substance. Contemporary researchers have found that coronary artery disease cuts down blood flow to the heart, causing pain. This pain can be triggered by emotional strain.

Another risk to individuals with thickened coronary arteries is coronary thrombosis, the most common cause of heart attack. This occurs when a blood clot forms, preventing blood flow and potentially causing death. This condition was identified by Dr. Adam Hammer, a German-born American, in 1878. Hammer suspected that the heart of one of his patients had been stopped by an obstruction and found upon autopsy that the heart was clogged by a jelly-like plug.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries also saw advancing knowledge in the diagnosis of congenital heart disease. Currently, about eight per 1,000 infants are born with some sort of heart abnormality, including many that do not need to be treated. While most instances of congenital disorder occur for unknown reasons, congenital heart disease can also be caused by genetic disorders, such as Down's syndrome, or through maternal exposure to disease.

Cogenital heart disease, the atrial septal defect, was first described in 1900 by George Gibson of Edinburgh. This problem, which occurs when there is an opening in the wall (or septum) between two atria, can cause the right ventricle to be overwhelmed with blood, a condition that eventually leads to heart failure. In some cases, however, the holes are small and do not cause problems. For years, there was little physicians could do to help children with the problem. The development of successful surgical procedures to repair atrial septal defects was one of a multitude of dramatic modern advances in heart surgery.


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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHeart Diseases - Early Knowledge, The Middle Ages, The Artful Heart, Explosion Of Knowledge, The Critical Arteries