Everything You Need to Know About Heart Disease

10 minute read

By Gerald Morris

Heart disease, a term that encompasses a wide array of conditions, remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about heart disease with a search online right now.

From exploring the various types of heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, and arrhythmias, to discussing risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies, this article offers a comprehensive look at heart disease.

Types of Heart Disease

Heart disease is a term that encompasses a variety of ailments that affect your heart. People often interchange heart disease with cardiovascular disease.

The main types of heart disease include:

Out of the above, the most common type of heart disease is CAD.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom of heart disease is chest pain or angina. Angina may be described as discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, or squeezing sensation in your chest. It is often mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina may also be felt in the shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back.

Other symptoms of heart disease may include:

Signs and Symptoms in Women

The signs and symptoms of heart disease in women deserve special mention, as their experience is often different than that of men. On average, these signs and symptoms occur about 10 years later in women. As such, they may easily be confused with other conditions, such as depression, menopause, and anxiety.

It has been reported that women are more likely to experience symptoms unrelated to angina, such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, and unusual fatigue. Furthermore, almost 80 percent of women reported experiencing these symptoms for at least one month before their heart attack occurred.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for heart disease. Some of the risk factors are controllable while other risk factors are uncontrollable.

The CDC estimates that 47 percent of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Most doctors agree that the key risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Both high cholesterol and smoking increase your risk of developing heart disease by two-fold, respectively.

On top of these key factors, established risk factors for the development of heart disease include:

Being overweight, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol use are other risk factors of heart disease.


The American Heart Association recommends some specific screening tests for heart disease that should begin at age 20. The exception being tests for blood glucose, which should begin at age 40 or 45.


Fasting cholesterol levels should be checked every four to six years. Your doctor may choose to check these levels more frequently if you are at increased risk for heart disease.

After age 40, your doctor should also use an equation to calculate your 10-year risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure should be monitored at least once every two years if it is less than 120/80 mm Hg. If it is above 120/80 mm Hg, your doctor may choose to check it more often.

Body Mass Index and Waist Circumference

Body mass index (BMI) and/or waist circumference should be monitored at every health care visit.

A BMI of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2 defines overweight, while greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2 defines obesity. A waist circumference greater than 35 inches in women or greater than 40 inches in men increases your risk for heart disease.


Considering diabetes can increase your risk of developing heart disease, it is beneficial to get tested for it.

In fact, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that overweight or obese adults obtain screening for type 2 diabetes between the ages of 40 and 70. If the results are normal, they should repeat the test every three years. Meanwhile, the American Diabetes Association recommends that adults start annual screening for type 2 diabetes at age 45.

If your fasting blood glucose is greater than or equal 126 mg/dL on more than one occasion, you have diabetes. Alternatively, your doctor may pursue a diagnosis through an A1C test, as a level greater than or equal to 6.5 percent defines diabetes.


The cornerstone of heart disease prevention is to address the controllable risk factors in an effort to reduce your risk of developing the disease. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of getting heart disease. With meticulous execution, you can reduce your chances by as much as 80 percent.

Many interventions aimed at the prevention of heart disease entail the control of medical conditions or lifestyle factors that contribute to the disease. These include:

Living with Heart Disease

In addition to the screenings and prevention measures mentioned above, lifestyle changes have the potential to further slash your risk of heart disease.

Diet and Exercise

A good place to start is with eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet. This diet should minimize your intake of saturated fats, sodium, and sugar and maximizes your intake of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

The DASH diet and Mediterranean diet are examples of heart-healthy eating plans.

In addition to changing your diet, you should strive to get moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.

With proper nutrition and regular exercise, you should be able to maintain a healthy weight — a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2 — to combat obesity or being overweight.

Other Changes

Other changes in lifestyle that may help prevent heart disease include:

When to See a Doctor

Many people with heart disease might believe that their symptoms are indigestion or heartburn, which is not always the case.

It is best to call your doctor if:

It is best to call 911 if:

Emergency health care personnel may tell you to chew an aspirin. This could prevent a blood clot from forming or getting larger in size in the arteries of your heart.


There is no one single test used to diagnose heart disease.

Medical History

The process starts with your doctor talking to you about your medical history. They will ask you about:

Genetics can play a role in heart disease. As a result, your doctor will inquire about your family history of heart disease.

Physical Examination

Next, your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination looking for any signs of heart disease. There will be special emphasis on the cardiovascular exam. During this exam, the doctor will be looking for the following signs:

Blood Tests

After your doctor takes a careful medical history and a thorough physical examination, blood tests are usually the next step in the evaluation of heart disease. Screening tests, such as fasting cholesterol levels and fasting blood glucose, are a good start, as well as tests for kidney, liver, and thyroid function.

A special blood test called C-reactive protein (CRP) may be recommended. CRP is a marker for inflammation. As such, elevated levels of CRP correlate with high levels of inflammation — and an increased risk for heart attack. Another special blood test called B-type natriuretic peptide may be used to rule in or rule out CHF.

Diagnostic Tests

If your preliminary evaluation identifies signs of heart disease or if you have specific risk factors for CAD, your doctor may also recommend one or more of the following non-invasive diagnostic tests for heart disease:

If your physical exam, blood tests, and non-invasive tests are inconclusive with regard to heart disease, your doctor may recommend the following invasive procedures:


Heart disease is a major cause of disability and causes many potentially fatal complications if left untreated.

Three of the most common complications of heart disease are:

  1. Heart Failure: Occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
  2. Heart Attack: Occurs when the coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked — usually as a result of atherosclerosis — cutting off blood supply to the heart muscle and causing irreparable damage
  3. Stroke: Occurs when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked, cutting off the blood supply to the brain, which is a medical emergency.

Other complications of heart disease may include the following:


Treatment for heart disease largely depends on the type of heart disease you have as well as how far it has advanced. For instance, if you have a heart infection, you’ll likely be given antibiotics as part of your treatment.

The overarching goal for the treatment of heart disease is to prevent complications and/or progression of the disease. In general, the treatment of heart disease usually includes lifestyle changes, medications, and medical procedures or surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes that help treat heart disease include:


Medications may be necessary to treat your heart disease.

You may be prescribed angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors if you have high blood pressure, heart failure, or have had a heart attack. Examples of ACE inhibitors include benazepril (Lotensin), ramipril (Altace), and captopril (Capoten).

If you can’t tolerate ACE inhibitors, you may have to take angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) instead. Examples of ARBs include losartan (Cozaar), olmesartan (Benicar), and valsartan (Diovan).

If you are at high risk of heart disease, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulants — also known as “blood thinners” — to prevent heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism. Examples of anticoagulants include enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, and warfarin (Coumadin).

Additionally, antiplatelet drugs may be prescribed to prevent a future heart attack or if you have an arrhythmia. Examples of antiplatelet agents include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), and prasugrel (Effient).

Beta-blockers slow down your heart rate, causing it to beat less forcefully. This can be useful for treating high blood pressure and heart failure, as well as preventing future heart attacks. Examples of beta-blockers include metoprolol (Lopressor), labetalol (Trandate), and propranolol (Inderal).

Calcium channel blockers (CCBs) work by causing your blood vessels to relax and causing your heart to beat less forcefully. This may be useful for the treatment of high blood pressure, chest pain, and arrhythmias. Examples of CCBs include amlodipine (Norvasc), diltiazem (Cardizem), and nifedipine (Procardia).

Digoxin may be prescribed if you have heart failure or arrhythmia.

If you have high cholesterol and/or coronary atherosclerosis, your doctor may prescribe statins to combat these ailments. Examples of statins include atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and pravastatin (Pravachol).

Finally, you may have to take nitrates if you have chest pain or heart failure. Examples of nitrates include nitroglycerin (Nitrostat), isosorbide dinitrate (Isordil), and isosorbide mononitrate (Monoket).


Surgery or invasive procedures are sometimes needed to treat heart disease, especially CAD.

If you have one or two blockages in your coronary arteries, you may be a candidate for a cardiac stent. Combined with angioplasty, stents are designed to keep arteries open, thereby improving previously diminished blood flow.

If you have more than two blockages in your coronary arteries, you may be a candidate for open-heart surgery, which is also referred to as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG). This is a major surgery that detours blood flow around your blockages.


Although heart disease is the single largest killer of men and women in the United States, there are things you can do to affect its outcome. It would be in your best interest to subscribe to a heart-healthy diet, get moving, quit smoking, and control your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

Gerald Morris