Heart Disease: Overview, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment


Heart disease includes different problems like issues with the heart’s blood vessels, valves, rhythm, and more. These problems can happen because of things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and not living a healthy lifestyle. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. About 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. are due to heart disease, and it affects all genders, as well as all racial and ethnic groups. In this article, you’ll learn more about the types, causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of heart disease. We’ll also cover risk factors and treatment options. For more research you can also visit British Heart Foundation.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease encompasses several conditions that affect the heart, with coronary artery disease (CAD) being the most prevalent well-known. CAD can lead to a buildup of waxy substances in the arteries of the heart, potentially triggering a heart attack. Adopting healthy habits, taking prescribed medications, and undergoing medical procedures can help prevent or manage CAD and other heart related conditions.

What are the Types of Heart Disease?

Heart disease encompasses various conditions that impact the cardiovascular system There are several types of heart disease, each affecting the heart disease and blood vessels differently. Let’s delve into some of these types in more detail.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD):

Coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, is the most common type of heart disease. It occurs when the arteries that carry blood to the heart become clogged with plaque, a mixture of cholesterol and other substances. This causes the arteries to harden and narrow, reducing blood flow to the heart. As a result the heart receives less oxygen and fewer nutrients, weakening the heart muscle over time and increasing the risk of heart failure and irregular heartbeats. When plaque builds up in the arteries, it’s called atherosclerosis. If a plaque ruptures, it can block blood flow completely leading to a heart attack.

Congenital Heart Disease:

Serious congenital conditions usually are noticed soon after birth. So congenital heart defects symptoms in children could include:

  • A typical heart valve
  • Septal defects
  • Atresia
  • Pale gray or blue skin or lips
  • Swelling in the legs, belly area or areas around the eyes
  • In an infant, shortness of breath during feeding, leading to poor weight gain
  • Easily getting short of breath during exercise or activity
  • Easily tiring during exercise or activity
  • Swelling of the hands, ankles, or feet

Congenital heart disease can involve significant structural problems, such as the absence of a ventricle or abnormal connections between the main arteries leaving the heart. Often congenital heart defects don’t show any noticeable symptoms and are only discovered during routine medical checkups. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart murmurs are common in children, but not all of them are caused by a defect.

Heart Arrhythmias:

The heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly. So heart arrhythmia symptoms can include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Bradycardia
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Premature contractions
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Racing heart beat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heartbeat

A person may notice a feeling like a fluttering or a racing heart. In some cases, arrhythmias can be life threatening or have severe complications. Common causes of arrhythmias or conditions that can lead to them include:

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes or Type-2 diabetes
  • Drug misuse
  • Emotional stress
  • Congenital heart defects
  • High blood pressure/Cholesterol 
  • Smoking
  • Heart valve disease
  • Use of certain medications, including those bought without a prescription, and herbs and supplements

Dilated Cardiomyopathy:

Early stages of cardiomyopathy may not cause noticeable symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling short of breath during activity or at rest
  • Feeling short of breath at night when trying to sleep or waking up short of breath
  • Irregular heartbeats that feel, rapid, pounding or fluttering
  • Swollen legs, ankle or feet

Myocardial Infarction:

Myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted leading to damage or destruction of part of the heart muscle. This primary cause of a heart attack is usually plaque buildup, a blood clot, or both in a coronary artery. It can also happen if an artery suddenly narrows or spasms.

Heart Failure:

When someone has heart failure their heart is still functioning but not as effectively as it should be. Congestive heart failure is a type of heart failure that can happen due to issues with pumping or relaxing. Heart failure can be caused by untreated coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmias and other conditions. These problems can affect the heart’s ability to pump or relax properly. While heart failure can be serious, getting early treatment for heart related issues can help prevent complications.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy:

These conditions typically occur when a genetic issue affects the heart muscles often running in families. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy the walls of the heart muscles thicken and contract more strongly, impacting the heart’s ability to receive and pump blood. Sometimes, this can cause blockages. Many people with this condition don’t have symptoms and some may not even realize they have it. However it can worsen over time and lead to various heart problems. Those with a family history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should consider screening as early treatment can prevent complications. According to the American Heart Association, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death among young individuals and athletes under 35 years old.

Mitral Valve Regurgitation:

This even happens when the mitral valve in the heart doesn’t close tightly enough, allowing blood to flow backward into the heart. As a result blood doesn’t move efficiently through the heart or body, and it can cause pressure on heart chambers. Over time, this can lead to heart enlargement and heart failure.

Mitral Valve Prolapse:

This occurs when the valve flaps of the mitral valve don’t close properly and bulge into the left atrium often causing a heart murmur. Mitral valve prolapse isn’t typically life threatening but some individuals may require treatment for it. Genetic factors and issues with connective tissues can cause this condition which affects approximately 2% of the population.

Aortic Stenosis:

In aortic stenosis, the pulmonary valve is thickened or fused, which prevents it from opening properly. This makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood from the left ventricles into the aorta. A person may have this condition from birth due to congenital anomalies of the valve, or it can develop over time due to calcium deposits or scarring.

What are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?

It’s symptoms depends on the type of heart disease:

Symptoms of the heart disease in the blood vessels:

So coronary artery disease is a common heart condition that affects the major blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. So 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:

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper belly, area or back
  • Pain, numbness, weakness, or coldness in the legs or arms if the blood vessel in those body areas are narrowed

Valvular Heart Disease:

Valvular condition is also called heart valve disease. Depending on which valve isn’t working properly, heart valve disease symptoms generally include:

  • Chest pain
  • Asthma
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen feet or ankle

So Endocarditis is an infection that affects the heart valves and inner lining of the heart chambers and heart valves. Endocarditis symptoms can include:

  • Dry or persistent cough
  • Fever
  • Heart beat changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin rashes or unusual spots
  • Swelling of the legs or belly area
  • Weakness or fatigue

In children, symptoms of the congenital heart defect may include cyanosis, which is a bluish tint to the skin, and difficulty exercising. Some signs and symptoms that could intake heart attack include:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Arm, jaw, back or leg pain
  • A choking sensation
  • Swollen ankles
  • Fatigue
  • An irregular heartbeat

A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest which occurs when the heart stops beating and the body can no longer function. It’s crucial for a person to seek immediate medical attention if they experience any symptoms of a heart attack. If cardiac arrest occurs the person will need:

  • Immediate medical help
  • Immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • A shock from an automated external defibrillator

What are the Causes of Heart Disease?

It depends on the specific type of heart disease. So there are many different causes of heart disease. Such as:

  • To understand the causes of heart disease, it may help to understand how the heart works.
  • The heart is divided into two chambers – two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles).
  • The right side of the heart moves blood to the lungs through blood vessels.
  • In the lungs blood picks up oxygen and then returns to the left side of the heart through the pulmonary veins.
  • The left side of the heart then pumps the blood through the aorta and out to the rest of the body.

Heart Valves:

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. So valves must open all the way and close tightly so there’s no leakage.

Heart Beats:

A heart beating squeezes and relax in a continuous cycle:

During contraction the lower heart chamber squeezes tight. This action forces blood to the lungs and the rest of the body. During relaxation the ventricles fill with blood from the upper heart chambers.

Electrical System:

The heart’s electrical system keeps it beating. The heartbeat controls the continuous exchange of oxygen-rich blood with oxygen poor blood. This exchanges keeps you alive:

  • Electrical signals start in the upper right chamber
  • The signals travel through specialized pathways to the lower heart chambers. This tells the heart to pump.

Causes of Heart Infection:

A heart infection, such as endocarditis occurs when germs reach the heart or heart valves. Because the most common causes of heart infections are:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites

Causes of the Heart Valve Disease:

Many things can cause diseases of the heart valves. Because some people are born with heart valve disease. Heart valve disease may also be caused by conditions such as:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Infections
  • Connective tissue disorders

What are the Risk Factors of Heart Disease?

The risk factors are include:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Family history
  • Hangover
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Overweight
  • a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Low activity levels
  • High stress and anxiety levels
  • Leaky heart valves
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Psychological Stress
  • Poor dental health

Smoking for instance is a risk factor that can be controlled. According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, people who smoke double their chances of developing heart diseases. Individuals with diabetes may also face a higher risk or heart disease because elevated blood glucose levels increase the likelihood of:

  • Angina
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • CAD

The World Health Organization (WHO) poverty and stress are two significant factors contributing to a global rise in heart and cardiovascular diseases.

Risk Factors You Can’t Control:

While some risk factors for coronary artery disease (CAD) may not be controllable, you can monitor their effects. a family history of CAD is particularly concerning if it involves:

  • A male relative under 55 years old
  • A female relative under 65 years old

Non-Hispanic Black people, non-Hispanic white people, and individuals of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage face a higher risk compared to Native Alaskan or Native American people. Additionally, males are at a greater risk of heart disease than females. According to the (CDC), the prevalence of heart disease is higher in men than in women.

What is the Diagnosis of Heart Disease?

So many different tests are used to diagnose it. Besides blood tests and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose it can include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Physical exams and blood tests
  • Noninvasive tests
  • Invasive tests
  • Holter monitoring
  • Echocardiogram
  • Exercises test or stress test
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Heart CT scan
  • Heart MRI scan

What are the Treatments of Heart Disease?

Its treatments depend on the cause and types of the heart damage. Because 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 the treatment. The treatment and best medicine for the heart may include:

  • Medications
  • Lifestyle strategies
  • Surgery or invasive procedures
  • statins
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Beta blockers
  • Nitrates
  • Antiplatelet agents
  • Anticoagulants
  • Other procedures

What are the Complications of Heart Disease?

So the complications are include:

  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Sudden cardiac arrest

What is the Prevention of Heart Disease?

The same lifestyle changes used to manage it may also help prevent it. So try these heart healthy tips:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat the diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduced and manage stress
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Managing underlying conditions
  • Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Get good sleep. Adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours daily.

Taking these steps can help boost overall and reduce the risk of heart disease and its complications.


Can ECG detect heart blockage?

Unfortunately the accuracy of diagnosing blocked arteries further from the heart when using an ECG decreases, so your cardiologist may recommend an ultrasound which is a non-invasive test like a carotid ultrasound to check for blockages in the extremities or neck.

How much blockage is normal in the heart?

Typically, we call heart blockage less than 40% mild. Such blockages are clearly not causing restriction to blood flow and therefore very unlikely to be causing symptoms.

Is my heart OK if echo is normal?

The normal EKGs and ECHO that you have had are good indicators that your heart is healthy. The chest pain does have to be addressed because it can be an early sign of narrowing in the arteries of your heart. So you should make sure you see your doctor regarding the chest pain.

How can I test my heart at home?

Place your  index and middle finger of your hand on the inner wrist of the other arm just below the base of the thumb. You should feel a tapping or pulsing against your fingers. So count the number of the taps you feel in 10 seconds. Multiply that number by 6 to find out your heart rate for 1 minute.

What blood tests show the heart?

The most common types of blood tests used to assess heart conditions. Such as:

  • Cardiac enzyme tests
  • Full blood count (FBC)
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Lipid profile
  • Liver tests
  • Clotting tests
  • BNP (B-types natriuretic peptides ) tests
  • Blood glucose tests (HBA1C)
  • U&E tests

How can I make my heart stronger?

  • Eat healthy
  • Get active
  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Manage stress 

Related Post:

When Your Heart Skips a Beat: What’s Happening & Should You Worry.

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