Learn about symptoms, causes and treatment of cardiovascular disease, a term describing a wide range of conditions that can affect the heart.
Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect the heart. Heart diseases include:
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
Heart disease symptoms depend on the type of heart disease.
Coronary artery disease is a common heart condition that affects the major blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. Cholesterol deposits (plaques) in the heart arteries are usually the cause of coronary artery disease. The buildup of these plaques is called atherosclerosis (ath-ur-o-skluh-ROE-sis). Atherosclerosis reduces blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body. It can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.
Coronary artery disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain. Women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease can include:
You might not be diagnosed with coronary artery disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure. It's important to watch for heart symptoms and discuss concerns with your health care provider. Heart (cardiovascular) disease can sometimes be found early with regular health checkups.
The heart may beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. Heart arrhythmia symptoms can include:
Serious congenital heart defects usually are noticed soon after birth. Congenital heart defect symptoms in children could include:
Less-serious congenital heart defects are often not diagnosed until later in childhood or during adulthood. Symptoms of congenital heart defects that usually aren't immediately life-threatening include:
Early stages of cardiomyopathy may not cause noticeable symptoms. As the condition worsens, symptoms may include:
The heart has four valves — the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid valves. They open and close to move blood through the heart. Many things can damage the heart valves. A heart valve may become narrowed (stenosis), leaky (regurgitation or insufficiency) or close improperly (prolapse).
Valvular heart disease is also called heart valve disease. Depending on which valve isn't working properly, heart valve disease symptoms generally include:
Endocarditis is an infection that affects the heart valves and inner lining of the heart chambers and heart valves (endocardium). Endocarditis symptoms can include:
Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:
Always call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack.
Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early. Talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about your heart health. Together, you and your provider can discuss ways to reduce your heart disease risk. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease.
If you think you may symptoms of heart disease, make an appointment to see your provider.
Heart disease causes depend on the specific type of heart disease. There are many different types of heart disease.
To understand the causes of heart disease, it may help to understand how the heart works.
Four heart valves — the aortic, mitral, pulmonary and tricuspid — keep the blood moving the right way. The valves open only one way and only when they need to. Valves must open all the way and close tightly so there's no leakage.
A beating heart squeezes (contracts) and relaxes in a continuous cycle.
The heart's electrical system keeps it beating. The heartbeat controls the continuous exchange of oxygen-rich blood with oxygen-poor blood. This exchange keeps you alive.
A buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries (atherosclerosis) is the most common cause of coronary artery disease. Risk factors include a poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking. Healthy lifestyle choices can help lower the risk of atherosclerosis.
Common causes of arrhythmias or conditions that can lead to them include:
A congenital heart defect develops while a baby is growing in the womb. A congenital heart defect forms as the baby's heart develops, about a month after conception. Congenital heart defects change the flow of blood in the heart. Some medical conditions, medications and genes increase the risk of congenital heart defects.
The cause of cardiomyopathy depends on the type:
A heart infection, such as endocarditis, occurs when germs reach the heart or heart valves. The most common causes of heart infections are:
Many things can cause diseases of the heart valves. Some people are born with heart valve disease (congenital heart valve disease). Heart valve disease may also be caused by conditions such as:
A typical heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers, the right and left atria, receive incoming blood. The lower chambers, the more muscular right and left ventricles, pump blood out of the heart. The heart valves, which keep blood flowing in the right direction, are gates at the chamber openings.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
Complications of heart disease include:
The same lifestyle changes used to manage heart disease may also help prevent it. Try these heart-healthy tips:
Your health care provider will examine you and ask about your personal and family medical history.
Many different tests are used to diagnose heart disease. Besides blood tests and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose heart disease can include:
Heart disease treatment depends on the cause and type of heart damage. Healthy lifestyle habits — such as eating a low-fat, low-salt diet, getting regular exercise and good sleep, and not smoking — are an important part of treatment.
If lifestyle changes alone don't work, medications may be needed to control heart disease symptoms and to prevent complications. The type of medication used depends on the type of heart disease.
Some people with heart disease may need a procedure or surgery. The type of procedure or surgery will depend on the type of heart disease and the amount of damage to the heart.
Heart disease can be improved — or even prevented — by making certain lifestyle changes. The following changes are recommended to improve heart health:
You may feel frustrated, upset or overwhelmed upon learning that you or a loved one has heart disease. Here are some ways to help manage heart disease symptoms and improve quality of life:
Some types of heart disease will be discovered without an appointment — for example, if a child is born with a serious heart defect, the heart disease will be detected soon after birth. Other times, heart disease may be diagnosed in an emergency situation, such as a heart attack.
If you think you have heart disease or are at risk of heart disease because of family history, see your health care provider. You may be referred to a heart specialist (cardiologist).
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment.
For heart disease, some basic questions to ask your health care provider include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your health care provider is likely to ask you questions, such as:
It's never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, eating healthy foods and becoming more physically active. A healthy lifestyle is the main protection against heart disease and its complications.