Get the Facts About Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It encompasses a broad range of conditions and diseases, some of which are genetic, and many of which are the result of lifestyle choices.
Common Types of Heart and Vascular Diseases
There are many different types of diseases that can affect the heart and vascular system. Learn about some of the most common conditions.
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
This type of cardiovascular disease involves atherosclerosis—hardening and narrowing—of the coronary arteries, producing blockages in the vessels that carry blood to the heart. Atherosclerosis happens over time, slowing blocking arteries and eventually restricting blood flow to the heart. It is usually the cause of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
Also called "myocardial infarction" (MI), a heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or cut off, due to the hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries from the build-up of fat, cholesterol, and other substances, known together as "plaque." A blood clot forms around the plaque, blocking blood flow. This results in permanent damage or death of part of the heart muscle.
This condition refers to any change in the normal sequence of the heartbeat. It involves the electrical impulses of the heart—not the arteries or blockages. These electrical impulses may happen too fast, too slow, or irregularly, which causes the heart to beat the same way. When the heart doesn’t beat normally, it can’t pump blood effectively to the lungs, brain, and other organs, causing them to potentially shut down or become damaged.
While a serious condition, heart failure does not mean that the heart is no longer working. Heart failure is when the heart’s ability to pump is weaker than normal. Blood moves through the heart and body at a slower rate, pressure increases in the heart, and the heart can’t supply enough blood and oxygen to the body’s cells, resulting in fatigue and shortness of breath.
Congenital Heart Defects
Different than other types of heart conditions, congenital heart defects are present at birth. These defects are not a disease, but rather an abnormality that occurs while a fetus is developing. Examples include a leaky heart valve or malformations in the walls that separate the heart chambers. Some heart defects may produce symptoms at birth or during childhood, while others aren’t discovered until a person is an adult. Treatment may or may not be needed, depending on the severity of the defect.
A progressive disease that causes the heart to become abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened, cardiomyopathy (also known as heart muscle disease) limits the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood effectively. This often leads to other heart conditions such as heart failure or arrhythmia.
Peripheral Artery Disease
A type of vascular disease (diseases that affect the circulatory system), peripheral artery disease occurs when fat and cholesterol deposits, or "plaque," build up in the peripheral arteries, which are the blood vessels outside the heart. This build up (also called atherosclerosis) narrows the artery walls, restricting the amount of blood flow to the body’s tissues. Depending on the arteries where the blockage occurs, this can lead to stroke, heart attack, renal (kidney) artery disease, and other serious conditions.
While there is a wide range of heart and vascular conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, there are some general risks and warning signs to watch for. If you suspect you have heart condition, talk with your primary care doctor, who can recommend or administer diagnostic tests and screenings.