Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It can’t be cured or reversed, but medications, procedures, and lifestyle changes can relieve many symptoms.
According to the
Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. It’s the leading cause of death for several populations, including white people, Hispanic people, and Black people. Almost half of people in the United States are at risk of heart disease, and the numbers are rising.
While it can be deadly, it’s also preventable in most people. By adopting certain lifestyle habits early, you can potentially live longer with a healthier heart.
Heart disease encompasses a wide range of cardiovascular problems. Several diseases and conditions fall under the umbrella of heart disease.
Types of heart disease include:
- congenital heart defects
- coronary artery disease (CAD)
- heart infections
The term “cardiovascular disease” may also refer to heart conditions that specifically affect the blood vessels.
Different types of heart disease can cause a variety of symptoms.
Learn more about the symptoms of arrhythmia.
Atherosclerosis reduces blood supply to your extremities. In addition to chest pain and shortness of breath, symptoms of atherosclerosis include fatigue and muscle weakness in the legs from poor circulation.
Learn more about the symptoms of atherosclerosis.
Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects are heart problems that develop when a fetus is growing. Some heart defects are never diagnosed. Others may be detected when they cause symptoms.
Learn more about the symptoms of congenital heart defects.
Coronary artery disease (CAD)
CAD is plaque buildup in the arteries that move oxygen-rich blood through the heart and lungs.
Learn more about the symptoms of CAD.
Cardiomyopathy is a disease that causes the heart muscles to grow larger and turn rigid, thick, or weak.
Learn more about the symptoms of cardiomyopathy.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of heart disease.
Females often experience different signs and symptoms of heart disease than males, specifically CAD and other cardiovascular diseases.
Learn more about the common signs and symptoms of heart attack in men and women.
Heart disease is a collection of diseases and conditions that cause cardiovascular problems. Each type of heart disease is caused by something entirely unique to that condition.
The causes of an abnormal heart rhythm include:
Congenital heart defect causes
This heart disease occurs while a baby is still developing in the uterus. Some heart defects may be serious and diagnosed and treated early. Some may also go undiagnosed for many years.
Your heart’s structure can also change as you age. This can create a heart defect that may lead to complications and problems.
There are several types of cardiomyopathy. Each type is the result of a separate condition:
The causes range from other medical conditions or comorbidities or genetics. Not all the causes are fully understood.
Heart infection causes
Bacteria, parasites, and viruses are the most common causes of heart infections. Uncontrolled infections in the body can also harm the heart if they’re not properly treated.
There are many risk factors for heart disease. Some are controllable and others aren’t.
According to the CDC,
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol
- low physical activity
Smoking, for example, is a controllable risk factor. People who smoke double their chance of developing heart disease, according to the
People with diabetes may also have a higher risk of heart disease because high blood glucose levels increase the chance of:
If you have diabetes, managing your glucose can limit your chance of developing heart disease. People with both high blood pressure and diabetes have a
Risk factors you can’t control
Other risk factors for heart disease include:
- family history
Although these risk factors aren’t controllable, you may be able to monitor their effects.
A family history of CAD is especially concerning if
- a male relative under 55 years old
- a female relative under 65 years old
Non-Hispanic Black people, non-Hispanic white people, and people of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage have a higher risk than Native Alaskan or Native American people.
Also, males have a greater risk of heart disease than females. According to the
Learn more about the risk factors for CAD.
Your doctor may order several types of tests and evaluations to make a heart disease diagnosis. Some of these tests can be performed before you ever have symptoms of heart disease.
Other tests may be used to look for possible causes of symptoms when they develop.
Physical exams and blood tests
The first thing your doctor will do is perform a physical exam. They will take an account of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
Then they will want to know your family and personal medical history. Genetics can play a role in some heart diseases. If you have a close family member with heart disease, share this information with your doctor.
Blood tests are frequently ordered. This is because they can help your doctor see your cholesterol levels and look for signs of inflammation.
A variety of noninvasive tests may be used to diagnose heart disease, such as:
- electrocardiogram (EKG)
- stress test
- carotid ultrasound
- Holter monitor
- tilt-table test
- CT scan
- heart MRI
If a physical exam, blood tests, and noninvasive tests aren’t conclusive, your doctor may want to look inside your body to determine what’s causing your symptoms. Invasive tests may include:
Read more about the tests used to diagnose heart disease.
Treatment for heart disease largely depends on the type of heart disease you have as well as how far it has advanced. For example, if you have a heart infection, your doctor is likely to prescribe an antibiotic.
If you have plaque buildup, your doctor may take a two-pronged approach: prescribe a medication that can help lower your risk of additional plaque buildup and look to help you adopt certain lifestyle strategies.
Treatment for heart disease falls into three main categories:
Some lifestyle strategies can help protect your heart. These include:
- eating a heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH diet
- getting regular exercise
- quitting smoking
- limiting alcohol consumption
A medication may be necessary to treat certain types of heart disease. Your doctor can prescribe a medication that can either cure or manage your heart disease.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications that slow or stop the risk of complications. The exact drug you’re prescribed depends on the type of heart disease you have. Examples include:
Read more about the drugs that treat heart disease.
Surgery or invasive procedures
In some cases of heart disease, surgery or a medical procedure is necessary to treat the condition and prevent worsening symptoms.
The procedure your doctor performs depends on the type of heart disease you have and the extent of damage to your heart.
Some risk factors of heart disease can’t be controlled, like your family history. But it’s still important to lower your chance of developing heart disease by decreasing the risk factors you can control.
Aim for healthy blood pressure and cholesterol numbers
Having healthy blood pressure and cholesterol ranges are some of the first steps you can take for a healthy heart. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
A healthy blood pressure is considered
Systolic is the measurement of pressure while the heart is contracting. Diastolic is the measurement when the heart is resting. Higher numbers indicate that the heart is working too hard to pump blood.
Your ideal cholesterol level depends on your risk factors and heart health history. If you have a high risk of heart disease, have diabetes, or have already had a heart attack, your target levels will be below those of people with low or average risk.
Adopt heart-healthy lifestyle strategies
Practicing the same lifestyle strategies that can help you manage heart disease can also help reduce your chance of developing it.
Quitting smoking can help your heart health because nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for oxygenated blood to circulate. This can lead to atherosclerosis.
Making these changes all at once might not be possible, and that’s OK. Talk with your doctor about what will have the biggest impact right now. Even small steps toward these goals help keep you at your healthiest.
Learn about ways to reduce the chance of heart disease.
What’s the connection between heart disease and hypertension?
High blood pressure (hypertension) makes the heart work harder to circulate blood. This can result in a thickened heart muscle and narrowed arteries.
High blood pressure also makes your heart muscles thicker and less elastic, impairing its ability to pump blood. This reduces the circulation of the oxygen-rich blood your body needs.
Is there a cure for heart disease?
It’s not possible to cure or reverse heart disease, so it requires lifetime treatment and monitoring. But medications, procedures, and lifestyle strategies can relieve symptoms.
Coronary intervention or bypass surgery might be used if other methods aren’t effective.
Is sinus bradycardia a sign of heart disease?
Sinus bradycardia is an abnormally slow heart rate. It’s not necessarily a cause for concern on its own. In fact, it’s often a marker of a healthy heart in athletes or people who are young. But in some cases, it
What are the best exercises for a leaky heart valve?
If you have a leaky heart valve, walking regularly can be good exercise for your heart.
You can also do other aerobic exercises, such as swimming or cycling, following the same principle.
Why are beta-blockers used in heart disease?
Beta-blockers slow and reduce the strength of your heartbeat. They also decrease your blood pressure. They work by blocking the hormone adrenaline (epinephrine) from binding to beta receptors in your body.
Almost half of all people in the United States have an elevated chance of developing heart disease, and the numbers continue to rise.
However, adopting heart-healthy lifestyle strategies can prevent or manage many cases of heart disease.
It’s not always easy to make these lifestyle changes in our busy and fast-paced lives, but there are huge benefits. If you take care of your heart now, it’s more likely to take care of you later in life.