Guide to Heart Disease: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
The heart is one of the major organs, responsible for pumping blood throughout your body via a network of arteries and veins. It goes without saying that giving your heart proper care is essential for keeping your body healthy. Otherwise, you may end up putting yourself at risk for heart disease or cardiovascular disease.
What is heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD)?1
Heart disease or CVD refers to any medical condition that affects the heart, including the blood vessels and the circulatory system as a whole.
This infographic will give you a better understanding of heart diseases—their types, causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Types of Heart Disease
There are several types of heart diseases, each affecting specific parts of the heart or cardiovascular system, meaning treatment will vary across types.
- Coronary artery disease
Also known as coronary heart disease, this develops when the arteries are clogged by plaque, causing them to harden and narrow and reducing the blood supply that brings oxygen and nutrients to the heart. This plaque build-up can lead to angina or chest pain caused by restricted blood flow, heart attacks, or even heart failure.2
- Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects are heart problems that a person is born with that can affect various parts of the heart: valves that do not open properly or leak blood, septal defects like holes in the walls between the lower or upper chambers, the absence of a ventricle, and so on.3
- Cardiac arrhythmia
Cardiac arrhythmia refers to irregular heartbeat caused by flaws in the electrical impulses that control it. As a result, the heart may beat too fast, too slow, or erratically. Some types of arrhythmia include tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), bradycardia (slowed heartbeat), and atrial fibrillation (a form of irregular heartbeat).4
- Dilated cardiomyopathy
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition that affects one or more of the heart chambers. The dilation of the ventricle stretches and thins the heart muscle more than normal, causing it to pump blood at a lower rate. This heart disease can contribute to arrhythmia, blood clots, or even death.5
- Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, happens when the heart’s blood flow is interrupted, resulting in damage to the heart muscle. Typically, a plaque, blood clot, or both in the coronary artery cause heart attacks.6
- Heart failure
When heart failure occurs, the heart is still functional but at a reduced level. It can result from other conditions, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and arrhythmias. If left untreated, heart failure can be fatal.7
- Mitral valve regurgitation
Mitral valve regurgitation occurs when the heart’s mitral valve cannot close tightly enough, letting blood flow back into the heart. This makes the circulation of blood within the heart and body less efficient. It can also put pressure on the veins from the lungs to the heart, which can cause the heart to enlarge.8
- Mitral valve prolapse
Mitral valve prolapse is a condition in which the flaps of the mitral valve close improperly and slip back into the left atrium, causing the blood to flow incorrectly or “leak” into another chamber. Mitral valve prolapse is a common cause of heart murmurs.9
- Aortic stenosis
Aortic stenosis affects the pulmonary valve of the heart. In this condition, the pulmonary valve is too thick or fused, making its opening too narrow. As a result, the heart struggles to pump blood from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery. A person may have aortic stenosis at birth or develop it over time due to scarring or calcium deposits.10
There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a blood clot, cutting off blood supply to a part of the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. In both types, the lack of blood causes the affected part of the brain to lose its functions, sometimes permanently.11
Causes of Heart Disease12,15
There are several reasons why you may develop heart disease, including ones that cannot be controlled. Some of the more common heart disease causes include the following:
- High blood pressure
One of the most critical risk factors for cardiovascular disease is high blood pressure. If left untreated, it can cause the arteries to harden and thicken and the blood vessels to narrow, causing damage to the heart.
- High levels of cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of lipid that travels in the blood. High levels of cholesterol and low levels of high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, causes the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels. This makes it more difficult for blood to circulate in the body and increases the risk of developing a blood clot.
Another significant risk factor for heart disease is diabetes, a chronic condition that affects your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels, causing them to narrow. Additionally, heart disease and diabetes share some risk factors, including obesity and high blood pressure.
Smoking and using other tobacco products can increase the risk of developing heart disease, as nicotine can narrow the blood vessels. Additionally, carbon monoxide can damage the vessels’ inner lining, making it more prone to plaque build-up.
Obesity or being overweight may result in several medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This may also aggravate other risk factors.
- Physical inactivity
Physical inactivity can make you more prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and being overweight. Additionally, the lack of exercise is associated with many types of heart disease and other risk factors.
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption can increase your chances of developing heart disease, as it affects your cholesterol and blood pressure levels. It can also contribute to weight gain and conditions related to the liver.
When under stress, the body secretes the hormone cortisol as a response. High levels of cortisol from long-term stress can make cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure rise. Stress can also affect the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels.
- Family history
If your family has a history of heart disease, your risk of developing it is greater. Family history pertains to your parents or siblings developing the disease in their early years—before age 55 for males and before 65 for females.
- Some medication and treatments
Some medicines and treatments can also put you at risk for heart disease. Anthracyclines may damage the heart muscle if used long-term or in high doses, while some antipsychotic drugs can increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmia, cardiac arrest, and stroke.
Meanwhile, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may have heart-related side effects like heart attack, stroke, and increased blood pressure.
Symptoms of Heart Disease13
While each type of heart disease has a distinct set of symptoms, several general symptoms can indicate the possible presence of it:
- Extreme fatigue
- Frequent dizziness or lightheadedness
- Chest pain or discomfort during physical activity that goes away with rest
- A heart rate of over 100 beats per minute
- New, irregular heartbeat
- Worsening respiratory infection or cough
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Loss of appetite or nausea
Treatment Options for Heart Disease14
There are several ways doctors can treat heart disease. Depending on the patient’s exact condition, doctors may prescribe one or a combination of options to treat the condition properly.
Medications can be given to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, control the onset of the condition, or aid in the recovery from a previous stroke or heart attack. Your medication will depend on the type of heart disease.
If a heart disease has worsened or became life-threatening, surgery or similar medical procedures might be necessary. For example, if you have coronary heart disease, you might need to have a stent inserted into your artery to bring your blood flow back to normal.
The kind of surgery or procedure needed is determined based on the type of heart disease and the amount of damage to your cardiovascular system.
- Cardiac rehabilitation and lifestyle changes
Cardiac rehabilitation is a medically supervised program made to improve a person’s cardiovascular health. It consists of three parts: exercise and training, education for lifestyle changes, and stress-reduction counseling.
People living with heart disease or recovering from one need to make lifestyle changes to prevent their condition from worsening. This includes reducing or quitting alcohol and tobacco use and adopting a diet to address their health concerns.
It’s Time to Care for Your Heart
With the heart pumping life-giving blood throughout the body, it’s no wonder heart disease is taken seriously. Knowing the types of conditions that can affect your cardiovascular system and what can put you at risk for them are steps to taking care of your heart.
With diabetes as one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease, it’s also important to get diagnosed before it’s too late. To understand your CVD risk better, take the ASCVD Risk Calculator: Framingham Score Test on our website, and get in touch with your cardiologist today.