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Heart disease

Overview of heart disease

Heart disease is a general term for problems with your heart, including heart attacks, heart failure, infections in the heart, congenital disabilities, and other conditions that affect your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

In the United States, heart disease is the most common cause of death for men and women, causing about one-quarter of all fatalities.


Some forms of heart disease have no signs at all, and some symptoms can be subtle.

Even heart attack symptoms can be mild. Most people think of chest pain as the main symptom of heart disease. Feeling chest pain or pressure during a heart attack is common, but other potential symptoms include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Backache
  • Sharp pain radiating down the left arm
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Shortness of breath with or without exertion
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Wet cough

When experiencing a heart attack, women are more likely to have symptoms in addition to or instead of chest pain, such as shortness of breath, back or abdominal pain, nausea, flu-like symptoms, and lightheadedness.

Men who have heart disease may also experience erectile dysfunction.


The causes of heart disease vary, but a buildup of fatty plaque inside your arteries is the most common one. When this happens, the walls of your arteries can harden, which restricts the amount of blood that can flow through your vessels to reach your muscles and organs.

Some congenital deficiencies can affect the way the heart muscle functions, as can trauma and infections.


Heart disease refers to conditions that affect the heart muscle and arteries, which circulate blood throughout your body. Heart disease can involve different parts of your heart, including:

  • The coronary arteries that supply blood to and from the heart
  • The electrical signals that dictate the heart’s rhythm
  • The valves that regulate blood flow through and in/out of the heart
  • The muscle tissue that squeezes to pump blood
  • The overall structure of the heart and its chambers

Your symptoms and prognosis will vary depending on the cause of your heart disease and which part of your heart is affected.

Numerous conditions can affect the heart. Some types of heart disease include:

  • Heart attacks (myocardial infarction)
  • Heart failure
  • Angina: chest pain
  • Coronary artery disease: the most common form of heart disease
  • Arrhythmias: abnormal or irregular heartbeats
  • Atherosclerosis: hardening of the arteries
  • Congenital disabilities: present at birth
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiomyopathy: weakened or enlarged heart muscle
  • Heart infections
  • Heart valve disease
  • Inherited heart conditions

Risk factors

Factors that contribute to heart disease risk include:

  • Being overweight
  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • High cholesterol
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High-stress lifestyle
  • Having high blood pressure or diabetes
  • Being sedentary (not exercising or moving often)
  • Smoking


It is possible to reduce your chances of developing heart disease by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing cholesterol levels
  • Choosing a healthy diet
  • Avoiding excess alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • Finding methods of managing stress
  • Exercising regularly

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.