What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease can include numerous conditions that affect your heart's health. Knowing if you are at risk of these conditions, how to prevent them, and how to treat them is essential to your current and long-term health. Read on to learn more.

10 minute read

Last Updated July 7, 2020

 Heart Disease: Causes, Variations, and Long-Term Outlook

Coronary Heart disease is an umbrella term that covers a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function. This is not to be confused with cardiovascular disease. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but the reverse is not true. 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is not discriminatory. Anyone of any race, age, or gender can develop heart disease, and without treatment, this collection of conditions can be fatal.

Heart Disease Causes

Each of the conditions that fall under the category of heart disease affects different parts of the heart and has different causes. Heart diseases generally refer to the heart, whereas cardiovascular diseases impact blood vessels as well as the heart. 

In general, the causes of heart disease disrupt blood flow through the heart. Poor diet and inactivity contribute to heart disease along with other medical conditions.

Arrhythmias cause disruption through irregular heartbeat patterns and electrical signals.

♦ Angina causes pain as blood flow is restricted.

♦ Heart infections can cause damage to valves within the heart, allowing for blood to leak.

♦ Atherosclerosis involves arterial build-up and the narrowing of blood vessels, thus disrupting blood flow to the heart.

What Are the Variations of Heart Disease?


Heart disease impacts the function and structure of the heart, specifically rather than the entire cardiovascular system. The most common types of heart disease include:

Angina: This is a chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart

Arrhythmia: This is the improper beating or irregular beating of your heart. It can be both too fast and too slow.

Atherosclerosis: This is defined as the build-up of triglycerides and cholesterol and the formation of plaques along arterial walls. The arteries become hardened as a result of impacting blood flow to the heart.

Coronary artery disease: This is caused by the narrowing of the coronary arteries, which is typically caused by atherosclerosis.

Heart infections: This is an infection of the heart tissue or muscles caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Heart failure: This is a condition in which your heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Valvular heart disease: This condition is characterized by damage to one or more of the heart valves, interrupting efficient blood flow to and through the heart.

Signs of Heart Disease


Your heart problem symptoms will depend on which type of heart disease you have. 

Angina: Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a squeezing sensation.

Arrhythmia: Symptoms include a fluttering in the chest, shortness of breath, and either a really slow (bradycardia) or really fast (tachycardia) heartbeat.

Atherosclerosis: Symptoms include chest pain, pain in the limb where the artery is blocked, and muscle weakness.

Heart failure: Symptoms include shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and fatigue, and swelling in legs, ankles, or feet.

Valvular heart disease: Symptoms include abnormal sound (murmur) fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, and fainting. 

Heart Disease Diagnosis

Heart disease is diagnosed by way of a physical exam, discussing your symptoms and medical history, and possibly other tests. Genetics plays a role in heart health, so it is important to share your family history of heart disease with your doctor. 

Blood tests can also be ordered to check cholesterol levels as well as signs of inflammation. Additional testing may be required for accurate diagnosis, and this could involve:

♦ An EKG to monitor your heart’s electrical activity and to highlight any irregularities

♦ Stress test to monitor your heart’s response to changes in physical exertion

♦ Holter monitor, which is a monitor you wear for 24 to 48 hours to provide an extended view of your heart function.

♦ Heart MRI to provide a detailed image of your heart and possible damage

♦ An electrophysiology study, which is more invasive, and uses electrodes attached to your heart to record how the heart responds to electric pulses

Heart Disease Treatment

Treatment for heart disease can involve medications as well as medical procedures. ACE inhibitors are commonly prescribed to dilate blood vessels and allow the heart to pump more efficiently as well as lower blood pressure. Antiplatelet drugs are also used to reduce the risks of clotting around the heart, which commonly causes heart diseases. Other medications, such as Digoxin, can be prescribed to help an injured or weakened heart work more efficiently.

Heart Disease Diet

What you eat can impact the health and strength of your heart. To prevent heart disease, you need to follow a heart-healthy diet. There are several things to remember to achieve this.

Watch your portions: Overeating is not healthy, so eat smaller portions more regularly throughout the day.

Eat more fruits and vegetables: These are great sources of vitamins and minerals to protect your heart from oxidative damage and reduce cholesterol that can disrupt heart function.

Limit unhealthy fats: Heart disease is caused largely by diets high in fats and sugars, so limit trans and unsaturated fats. 

Eat whole grains: Whole grains and fiber are great for heart health and can regulate blood pressure naturally. 

Lower sodium intake: Sodium raises blood pressure when consumed in excess, so cut back to 1500 milligrams a day to protect your heart.

Natural Treatments for Heart Disease

While heart disease cannot be reversed, there are alternative approaches and changes to your lifestyle that you can make to reduce the risk of future complications. 

♦ Lose weight and excess body fat
♦ Eat less sugary and processed foods
♦ Get regular exercise
Stop smoking
♦ Reduce alcohol consumption
♦ Lower stress through meditation, exercise, yoga, and deep breathing

Heart Disease Surgery

When medications do not work, doctors will recommend surgical procedures. Heart bypass surgery takes a healthy artery from elsewhere in your body and uses it to bypass the damaged one. 

Electrical cardioversion is also used to help restore natural and more regular heart rhythms as in the case of fibrillation and arrhythmias. Pacemakers can also be installed in the heart muscles to help them keep a suitable heartbeat by way of electrical impulses.

Heart Disease Statistics

♦ About 610,000 people die every year of heart disease.

♦ Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women.

♦ 18 percent of heart attacks are preceded by angina.

♦ One in nine deaths is caused by heart failure in the U.S.

♦ More than 5 million Americans are diagnosed with valvular heart disease each year.

Heart Disease and Children

The most common heart disease to impact children is congenital heart disease. This is caused by a defect at birth and is present in about 1 percent of babies born each year. Children can also develop heart disease through viral infections or genetic syndromes. 

Most cases can be treated with surgery and medications, and in very severe cases, heart transplants may be necessary. Some children will require lifelong monitoring and treatment for the condition. 

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

There is no cure for heart disease, nor can it be reversed. Once diagnosed, you will have to continually monitor your heart health and follow a treatment program. 

With medications and dietary and lifestyle changes, you can reduce the risk of further damage or complications. If you have a family history of heart problems, it is important to start being proactive about heart health and implement a healthier diet and lifestyle right away.

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