Coronary heart disease—often simply called heart disease—is the main form of heart disease. It is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack. A heart attack happens when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart.
Heart disease symptoms depend on what type of heart disease you have.
Symptoms of heart disease in your blood vessels (atherosclerotic disease)
Cardiovascular disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain; women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.
Symptoms can include:
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back
Heart disease symptoms caused by abnormal heartbeats (heart arrhythmias)
A heart arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. Your heart may beat too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. Heart arrhythmia symptoms can include:
- Fluttering in your chest
- Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
- Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting (syncope) or near fainting
Heart disease symptoms caused by heart defects
Heart defect symptoms in children could include:
- Pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
- Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes
- In an infant, shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain
Heart disease symptoms caused by weak heart muscle
symptoms may include:
- Breathlessness with exertion or at rest
- Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
- Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding or fluttering
- Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting
Heart disease symptoms caused by heart infections
Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner membrane that separates the chambers and valves of the heart (endocardium). Heart infection symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness or fatigue
- Swelling in your legs or abdomen
- Changes in your heart rhythm
- Dry or persistent cough
- Skin rashes or unusual spots
Various heart disease causes
Causes of cardiovascular disease
While cardiovascular disease can refer to different heart or blood vessel problems, the term is often used to mean damage to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis (ath-ur-o-skluh-ROE-sis), a buildup of fatty plaques in your arteries. Plaque buildup thickens and stiffens artery walls, which can inhibit blood flow through your arteries to your organs and tissues.
Atherosclerosis is also the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It can be caused by correctable problems, such as an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking.
Causes of heart arrhythmia
Common causes of abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or conditions that can lead to arrhythmias include:
- Heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects)
- Coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure
- Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
- Drug abuse
- Some over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies
- Valvular heart disease
Causes of heart infection
A heart infection, such as endocarditis, is caused when an irritant, such as a bacterium, virus or chemical, reaches your heart muscle. The most common causes of heart infection include:
Causes of valvular heart disease
There are many causes of diseases of your heart valves. You may be born with valvular disease, or the valves may be damaged by conditions such as:
- Rheumatic fever
- Infections (infectious endocarditis)
- Connective tissue disorders
Risk factors for developing heart disease include:
- Aging increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle.
- Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. However, women’s risk increases after menopause.
- Family history.A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).
- Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers
- Poor diet.A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
- High blood pressure.Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
- High blood cholesterol levels.High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
- Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
- Poor hygiene.Not regularly washing your hands and not establishing other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. Poor dental health also may contribute to heart disease.
- Quit smoking
- Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
- Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce and manage stress
- Practice good hygiene