Heart Disease

Heart Disease: An Overview Image

Heart Disease is a general term used to describe a variety of conditions and diseases that affect the heart and circulatory system. In some cases, heart disease can involve inflammation or deterioration of the heart muscle. In other cases, a heart condition may describe a lack of coordination between the heart and lungs, or a blood flow blockage caused by a narrowing of the arteries around or in the heart. Some heart conditions involve irregular heartbeat patterns like arrhythmias or heart palpitations.

“Heart disease” is a useful term, but not all forms of heart disease are related, and their causes, symptoms and risk factors vary widely. Explore this section for information about some of the common heart conditions that affect the health of millions of Americans. Learn how to protect your heart from the risk factors associated with coronary heart disease and other heart conditions, and find out how some of these conditions are recognized and treated.

The Healthy Heart

A healthy heart is a muscular organ about the size of a fist that contracts rhythmically, pushing blood toward the lungs to gather oxygen. The oxygenated blood then circulates to all the systems of the body, delivering life-giving nutrients to cells and clearing away cellular waste products and pathogens. The heart is the driving force that makes this possible.

When something goes wrong, the heart may begin to beat in an irregular pattern. It may also speed up, slow down or stop altogether in what we call a heart attack or congestive heart failure.

The source of the problem may be one of several common conditions. The following forms of heart disease are examined in greater detail in this section:

  • Cardiomyopathy: A disease of the heart muscle
  • Congenital heart disease: A genetic heart problem caused by heart defects present at birth
  • Coronary heart disease: A narrowing of coronary arteries due to plaque deposition on artery walls
  • Pulmonary heart disease: The inability of the heart to coordinate properly with the lungs
  • Rheumatic heart disease: A condition caused by rheumatic fever
  • Valvular disease: A disease of the heart’s valves.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Certain risk factors increase the chance of heart palpitations, coronary heart disease and other heart conditions, including genetics and lifestyle. Explore the section outlining risk factors to find out how you can protect your heart from damage and disease.

Diagnosing and Treating Heart Disease

While diagnostic tests may vary in order to pinpoint specific heart conditions, the general tests used to examine heart function are similar. Some of the tests doctors use include electrocardiograms, echocardiograms and nuclear stress tests, in which thallium is injected into the heart and images are taken as the person exercises.

Once a diagnosis is made, the treatment for heart disease depends on the type and severity of the disease, and often includes lifestyle changes and medications to prevent further damage. Sometimes surgery may be required. Explore the section on diagnosing heart conditions, alternative treatments and living with heart disease in order to learn more.

Resources

American Heart Association. (2010). Heart attack. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/Heart-Attack_UCM_001092_SubHomePage.jsp

American Heart Association. (2010). Live well. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Conditions_UCM_001087_SubHomePage.jsp

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Heart disease. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Heart disease definition. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120

Medline Plus. (2010). Heart diseases. Retrieved October 25, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartdiseases.html