Heart disease is a blanket term used to describe many conditions affecting the heart. Some are life-threatening, while others can be managed with long-term treatment. The cause, symptoms, and outcome of heart disease, too, depends on the specific heart condition.
Coronary heart disease affects the heart’s blood vessels. A buildup of plaque leads to narrowed or blocked vessels, limiting the supply of healthy, oxygenated blood to the heart. The most common sign is angina, a feeling of pain, tightness, or aching in the chest, arms, or back. An acute coronary event is a heart attack, though the condition is treatable. Depending on the severity of the blockage, a doctor may prescribe medication, vessel stenting, or surgery.
A heart arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats in an irregular pattern. Symptoms of arrhythmias include a fluttering feeling inside the chest, a noticeably slow or fast heartbeat, and chest pain. The condition may be a symptom of another heart condition or may occur as a result of lifestyle factors. Some heart arrhythmias are harmless, while others require treatment. Some can be life-threatening. Treatments include medication, and in some cases, surgery.
Congenital heart disease is the name applied to diseases caused by a defect in the function or structure of the heart that developed in the womb as the heart was developing. Diagnosis and treatment of the condition depend on how the heart is affected. Severe cases are diagnosed in utero or soon after birth and require immediate intervention. Treatments include medication, surgery, and heart transplant. Less serious defects may go entirely unnoticed well into childhood.
Cardiomyopathies are diseases that adversely affect the heart, causing the muscle to be weakened and making pumping blood more difficult. The cause of cardiomyopathy is often unknown, though experts know genetics, pre-existing diseases, and environmental factors play a role. Untreated cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure. Treatments include medication, lifestyle changes, and surgical intervention.
Endocarditis is the inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. This is most often caused by an infection that has spread to the heart valves through the bloodstream. Symptoms include aching joints and muscles, shortness of breath, and chest pain. The inflammation is usually treated with antibiotics (when it is caused by a bacterial infection), though surgery may be necessary to repair damaged valves.
Valvular heart disease affects the flow of blood into and out of the heart. This primarily occurs when one or more of the heart’s valves begins to narrow or leak. Without a healthy supply of blood, heart failure may occur. The cause of the condition depends on the valve affected — coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart valve infection are common factors. Symptoms of the condition include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, swelling of the legs, and abdominal pain. In advanced cases, the patient may require valve repair or replacement.
A heart attack occurs when blood is unable able to reach the heart. The event is most often a complication of coronary heart disease. The symptoms typically include chest pain, upper body discomfort, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can come about slowly or suddenly and may be mild or intense. A heart attack is potentially life-threatening and must be treated immediately.
Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart is no longer capable of pumping blood as it should. It often develops as a result of other heart conditions. Symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling in the lower limbs, and an irregular heartbeat. Heart failure cannot be cured, but long-term care can reduce the symptoms, delay the progression of the disease, and prolong a person's life.
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an acute event in which the heart’s electrical system fails and stops beating. It is most often caused by ventricular fibrillation, which is when the ventricles of the heart begin to beat irregularly. SCA is unpredictable and can occur in people with no pre-existing heart conditions. It is most often fatal, though the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) can save the patient's life.
A heart murmur is an irregular heartbeat sound heard through a stethoscope. It is described as a blowing, whooshing, or rasping sound. Some heart murmurs are harmless, while others indicate a serious, underlying heart condition, such as a hole in the heart, abnormal blood flow, heart valve problems, or endocarditis.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.