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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Heart Disease
      Category : Health Centers > Coronary Artery Disease

Heart Disease

Alternate Names : Cardiac Disease

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Heart disease is a general term for a wide variety of diseases and conditions that affect the function of the heart.

What is going on in the body?

The main job of the heart is to pump blood to the rest of the body. The primary concern with most heart conditions is how much they affect the heart's ability to pump blood. When people use the term heart disease, they are often referring to atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries. Clogged heart arteries cause coronary artery disease, or CAD. In turn, coronary artery disease can lead to:

  • chest pain in the form of stable angina or unstable angina
  • congestive heart failure, in which the heart fails to pump enough blood to supply body tissues
  • heart attacks
  • irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias
  • But heart disease can also refer to many other conditions. This is important for people to remember when they see or hear the term heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and in many other countries.

    What are the causes and risks of the disease?

    There are many causes of heart disease.

    Atherosclerosis, or clogging of the arteries, is partly or fully responsible for many diseases that affect the heart, including:

  • congestive heart failure, a condition in which a weakened heart is unable to pump enough blood throughout the body
  • heart attacks, also called myocardial infarctions
  • irregular heartbeats, or arrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia
  • stable angina or unstable angina, conditions in which chest pain occurs when the heart doesn't receive enough oxygen
  • Factors that increase a person's risk of developing atherosclerosis include:

  • diabetes
  • excess weight and obesity
  • family history of atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol levels
  • increasing age
  • lack of exercise
  • male gender
  • smoking
  • High blood pressure can cause heart disease even when arteries are not clogged. The increased blood pressure can cause heart enlargement, called hypertrophy, and congestive heart failure. It also increases the risk of clogged arteries, which can further damage the heart.

    Congenital heart disease, which means heart disease that is present at birth, can result in a heart that has an abnormal structure or function. For example, a baby with Down syndrome may have an atrial septal defect and/or ventricular septal defect. Heart valve conditions, such as pulmonary stenosis, may be present at birth as well.

    Other causes of heart disease include:

  • autoimmune disorders, in which the body is attacked by its own immune system
  • heart valve infections, known as endocarditis, which can damage the valves and cause conditions such as aortic regurgitation or mitral stenosis
  • infections of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis
  • infection of the lining around the heart, a condition called bacterial pericarditis
  • kidney failure, which can cause pericarditis, an inflammation of the lining around the heart. Kidney failure may also cause an abnormal collection of fluid around the heart, called pericardial effusion.
  • toxins, such as alcohol and some chemotherapy medicines used to treat cancer. Both of these can cause a condition called cardiomyopathy,a disease of the heart muscle.
  • Many other conditions can also affect the heart.


    Next section


    Heart Disease: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Adam Brochert, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 08/08/01

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