The term “heart disease” is often used interchangeably with the term “cardiovascular disease.” Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
- Being inactive or not getting enough physical activity
- Using tobacco
- Having high blood pressure
- Having high cholesterol
- Having diabetes, pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome
- Carrying too much weight
Risk Factors for Heart Disease You Can’t Control
- Being older
- Being male
- Having already had a stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA) or heart attack
- Having a personal or family history of high cholesterol
- Being African American, American Indian or Alaskan Native
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
- CAD is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries) and other parts of the body.
- Too much plaque buildup and narrowed artery walls can make it harder for blood to flow through your body. When your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood, you may have chest pain or discomfort, called angina. Angina is the most common symptom of CAD.
- Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle. This can lead to heart failure.
- Being overweight, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, and smoking tobacco are risk factors for CAD.
- A family history of heart disease also increases your risk for CAD.
Reducing your risk:
- Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthier (lower sodium, lower fat) diet, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking.
- Medications to treat the risk factors for CAD, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, and low blood flow.
- Surgical procedures to help restore blood flow to the heart
- A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood flow.
- The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart muscle.
Signs & symptoms:
The five major symptoms of a heart attack are:
- Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
- Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Pain or discomfort in arms or shoulder.
- Shortness of breath.
Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms.
*If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Other conditions related to heart disease
- Acute coronary syndrome is a term that includes heart attack and unstable angina.
- Angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease, is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood. Angina may feel like pressure or a squeezing pain in the chest. The pain also may occur in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. It may feel like indigestion. There are two forms of angina—stable or unstable:
- Aortic aneurysm and dissection are conditions that can affect the aorta, the major artery that carries blood from the heart to the body. An aneurysm is an enlargement in the aorta that can rupture or burst. A dissection is a tear in the aorta. Both of these conditions are medical emergencies.
- Arrhythmias are irregular or unusually fast or slow heartbeats. Arrhythmias can be serious. One example is called ventricular fibrillation. This type of arrhythmia causes an abnormal heart rhythm that leads to death unless treated right away with an electrical shock to the heart (called defibrillation). Other arrhythmias are less severe but can develop into more serious conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, which can cause a stroke.
- Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries). Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits. Plaque buildup causes arteries to narrow over time.
- Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia that can cause rapid, irregular beating of the heart’s upper chambers. Blood may pool and clot inside the heart, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes enlarged or stiff. This can lead to inadequate heart pumping (or weak heart pump) or other problems. Cardiomyopathy has many causes, including family history of the disease, prior heart attacks, uncontrolled high blood pressure, and viral or bacterial infections.
- Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart that are present at birth. They are the most common type of major birth defect. Examples include abnormal heart valves or holes in the heart’s walls that divide the heart’s chambers. Congenital heart defects range from minor to severe.
- Heart failure is often called congestive heart failure because of fluid buildup in the lungs, liver, gastrointestinal tract, and the arms and legs. Heart failure is a serious condition that occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. It does not mean that the heart has stopped but that muscle is too weak to pump enough blood. The majority of heart failure cases are chronic, or long-term heart failures.
- The only cure for heart failure is a heart transplant. However, heart failure can be managed with medications or medical procedures.
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs (the periphery) become narrow or stiff. PAD usually results from atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque and narrowing of the arteries. With this condition, blood flow and oxygen to the arm and leg muscles are low or even fully blocked. Signs and symptoms include leg pain, numbness, and swelling in the ankles and feet.
- Rheumatic heart disease is damage to the heart valves caused by a bacterial (streptococcal) infection called rheumatic fever.
Know your risk of heart disease:
- Know your family health history and share this information with your healthcare provider
- Learn how family history, lifestyle choices and other health concerns increase your risk of heart disease
Check your blood pressure:
- Ask your healthcare provider what range is best for you. For most people, that range is less than 120/80.
- Get your blood pressure checked by your provider and track your numbers here.
- Take steps to manage high blood pressure
Make lifestyle changes:
- Lose weight if you are not at a healthy weight
- Lower your sodium intake
- Eat a healthy diet
- Be physically active
- Live tobacco-free
- Limit alcohol intake to take two drinks per day
- Manage stress