Types of Heart Disease: What You Need to Know

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. In fact, every minute of the day, more than one person dies from a heart disease-related ailment. It is also a significant cause of disability and costs the health care system as much as $200 billion per year to combat, including health care services, medications, and lost work hours.

Types of Heart Disease

Heart disease does not represent one entity. The term actually refers to a variety of diseases that adversely affect the heart. These diseases affect different parts of the heart and have distinct causes.

Accordingly, heart disease encompasses a wide range of heart disorders, including:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD);
  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias);
  • Heart valve disease;
  • Heart failure;
  • Congenital heart defects;
  • Cardiomyopathy, and;
  • Heart infections.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

Coronary Artery Disease

CAD is the most common type of heart disease.

Symptoms of CAD may include:

  • Chest pain, tightness, pressure, and/or discomfort;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Nausea;
  • Fatigue, and;
  • Profuse sweating.

It should be noted that women may typically experience symptoms that are different from men. For instance, women are more likely to have symptoms not related to chest pain, such as back pain, nausea, and extreme fatigue. In comparison, men are more likely to have “classic” chest pain behind the breastbone.

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Also known as arrhythmias, abnormal heart rhythms may cause your heart to beat too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly.

Symptoms of heart arrhythmias may include:

  • Fluttering sensation in the chest;
  • Fast heartbeat;
  • Slow heartbeat;
  • Chest pain, and;
  • Dizziness/fainting.

Examples of arrhythmias include atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, ventricular tachycardia, and ventricular fibrillation.

Heart Valve Disease

The heart has four valves — the aortic, pulmonic, tricuspid, and mitral valves — that open and close to direct blood flow through the heart. Damage to the valves can lead to narrowing, leaking, or improper closing.

Symptoms of heart valve disease may include:

  • Fatigue;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Irregular heartbeat;
  • Fainting, and;
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs.

Heart Failure

Also known as congestive heart failure, heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. It can be left-sided or right-sided. Also, it can affect the relaxation or contraction of the heart.

Symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • Shortness of breath due to a buildup of fluid in the lungs;
  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat;
  • Fatigue;
  • Dizziness, and;
  • Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, and abdomen.

Congenital Heart Defects

Also known as congenital heart disease, congenital heart defects develop when a fetus is growing in the womb. As a result, individuals are born with these defects. Examples of these defects include atrial septal defect, patent foramen ovale, ventricular septal defect, and patent ductus arteriosus.

Some of these defects are noticeable shortly after birth as they cause significant symptoms, while some heart defects are never diagnosed.

Symptoms of congenital heart defects may include:

  • Bluish tinged skin, lips, and fingernails;
  • Difficulty breathing;
  • Lethargy;
  • Swelling of the hands, ankles, or feet, and;
  • Abnormal heart rhythms.


Cardiomyopathy is a disease that negatively affects the heart muscle, which decreases its pumping ability. The three main types of cardiomyopathy are dilated, hypertrophic, and restrictive cardiomyopathy.

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy may include:

  • Fatigue;
  • Bloating of the abdomen;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles, and;
  • Rapid heartbeat.

Heart Infections

Heart infections can affect different parts of the heart. The two most common heart infections are endocarditis, which affects the heart valves, and myocarditis, which affects the heart muscle. Antibiotics are typically needed to treat heart infections.

Symptoms of heart infections may include:

  • Fever;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Cough;
  • Skin rashes, and;
  • Fatigue.

Causes of Heart Disease

Coronary Artery Disease

In addition to being the most common type of heart disease, CAD is also a cardiovascular problem. The term cardiovascular refers to the heart and blood vessels.

CAD is characterized by narrowing or total blockage of an artery in the heart due to a buildup of fatty plaques. This phenomenon is termed atherosclerosis, or “hardening” of the arteries, which can inhibit blood flow to your organs and tissues.

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Many of the common causes of abnormal heart rhythms are other forms of heart disease or concomitant medical conditions such as:

  • CAD;
  • Congenital heart defects;
  • Heart valve disease;
  • Diabetes, and;
  • High blood pressure.

Heart Valve Disease

There are many causes of heart valve disease. You may be born with valvular disease or the valves may be damaged by conditions such as:

  • Rheumatic fever;
  • Infections, and;
  • Connective tissue disorders.

Heart Failure

Heart failure often develops after other conditions — including other forms of heart disease — have damaged or weakened your heart. It can also occur if the heart becomes too stiff.

Some of the common causes of heart failure include:

  • CAD;
  • Heart attack;
  • Heart valve disease;
  • Congenital heart defects;
  • Myocarditis, and;
  • High blood pressure.

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects usually develop as the heart is formed in the womb. These defects usually change the flow of blood in the heart. Some medical conditions (like rubella in pregnant women), medications (such as thalidomide), and genes may play a role in causing heart defects.


Often the cause of cardiomyopathy is unknown. However, in some people, it’s the result of another condition or passed on from a parent.

Some common causes of cardiomyopathy include:

  • High blood pressure;
  • Heart attack;
  • Excessive iron buildup in your body;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption, and;
  • Use of cocaine, amphetamines, or anabolic steroids.

Heart Infections

A heart infection, such as endocarditis or myocarditis, is caused when germs enter your bloodstream, travel to your heart, and attach to heart valves or compromised heart tissue.

The most common causes of heart infection include bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Some of the more common risk factors include:

  • Diabetes;
  • Obesity;
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure;
  • Smoking;
  • High blood cholesterol;
  • Lack of exercise;
  • Family history, and;
  • Poor diet.

Complications of Heart Disease

The complications of heart disease, which are significant causes of disability and sometimes death, include:

  • Heart attack;
  • Heart failure;
  • Stroke;
  • Aneurysm;
  • Pulmonary embolism, and;
  • Sudden cardiac arrest.


Heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in Americans, is composed of a variety of diseases that are also significant causes of disability. Fortunately, there are things you can do to combat the disease, such as proper diet, regular exercise, and avoidance of smoking.

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Jul 15, 2019