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Everything You Need to Know About Heart Disease


Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source. In the United States, 1 in every 4 deaths in is the result of a heart disease. That’s about 610,000 people who die from the condition each year.

Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. It’s the leading cause of death for several populations, including white people, Hispanics, and Black people. Almost half of Americans are at risk for heart disease, and the numbers are rising. Learn more about the increase in heart disease rates.

While heart disease can be deadly, it’s also preventable in most people. By adopting healthy 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:

  • Arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a heart rhythm abnormality.
  • Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a hardening of the arteries.
  • Cardiomyopathy. This condition causes the heart’s muscles to harden or grow weak.
  • Congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects are heart irregularities that are present at birth.
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is caused by the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries. It’s sometimes called ischemic heart disease.
  • Heart infections. Heart infections may be caused by bacteriaviruses, or parasites.

The term cardiovascular disease may be used to refer to heart conditions that specifically affect the blood vessels.

Different types of heart disease may result in a variety of different symptoms.


Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms. The symptoms you experience may depend on the type of arrhythmia you have — heartbeats that are too fast or too slow. Symptoms of an arrhythmia include:


Atherosclerosis reduces blood supply to your extremities. In addition to chest pain and shortness of breath, symptoms of atherosclerosis include:

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 found when they cause symptoms, such as:

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

CAD is plaque buildup in the arteries that move oxygen-rich blood through the heart and lungs. Symptoms of CAD include:

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • a feeling of pressure or squeezing in the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • feelings of indigestion or gas


Cardiomyopathy is a disease that causes the muscles of the heart to grow larger and turn rigid, thick, or weak. Symptoms of this condition include:

Heart infections

The term heart infection may be used to describe conditions such as endocarditis or myocarditis. Symptoms of a heart infection include:

Read more about the signs and symptoms of heart disease.

Women often experience different signs and symptoms of heart disease than men, specifically with regards to CAD and other cardiovascular diseases.

In fact, a 2003 study looked at the symptoms most often seen in women who’d experienced a heart attack. The top symptoms didn’t include “classic” heart attack symptoms such as chest pain and tingling. Instead, the study reported that women were more likely to say they experienced anxietysleep disturbances, and unusual or unexplained fatigue.

What’s more, 80 percent of the women in the study reported experiencing these symptoms for at least one month before their heart attack occurred.

Symptoms of heart disease in women can also be confused with other conditions, such as depressionmenopause, and anxiety.

Common heart disease symptoms in women include:

Read more about the common signs and symptoms of heart disease in women — and find out why many women say they wouldn’t call 911 if they thought they were having a heart attack.

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. Atherosclerosis and CAD result from plaque buildup in the arteries. Other causes of heart disease are described below.

Arrhythmia causes

Causes of an abnormal heart rhythm include:

Congenital heart defect causes

This heart disease occurs while a baby is still developing in the womb. 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.

Cardiomyopathy causes

Several types of cardiomyopathy exist. Each type is the result of a separate condition.

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy. It’s unclear what causes this most common type of cardiomyopathy, which leads to a weakened heart. It may be the result of previous damage to the heart, such as the kind caused by drugs, infections, and heart attack. It may also be an inherited condition or the result of uncontrolled blood pressure.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This type of heart disease leads to a thicker heart muscle. It’s usually inherited.
  • Restrictive cardiomyopathy. It’s often unclear what leads to this type of cardiomyopathy, which results in rigid heart walls. Possible causes may include scar tissue buildup and a type of abnormal protein buildup known as amyloidosis.

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. The CDC says that around 47 percentTrusted Source of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Some of these risk factors include:

Smoking, for example, is a controllable risk factor. People who smoke double their risk of developing heart disease, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

People with diabetes may also be at higher risk for heart disease because high blood glucose levels increase the risk of:

If you have diabetes, it’s essential to control your glucose to limit your risk for developing heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that people who have both high blood pressure and diabetes double their risk for cardiovascular disease.

Risk factors you can’t control

Other risk factors for heart disease include:

  • family history
  • ethnicity
  • sex
  • age

Although these risk factors aren’t controllable, you may be able to monitor their effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, a family history of CAD is especially concerning if it involved a:

  • male relative under 55 years old, such as a father or brother
  • female relative under 65 years old, such as a mother or sister

Non-Hispanic blacks, non-Hispanic whites, and people of Asian or Pacific Island heritage have a higher risk than Native Alaskans or Native Americans. Also, men are at greater risk for heart disease than women. In fact, the CDC estimates between 70 and 89 percentTrusted Source of all cardiac events in the United States occur in men.

Finally, your age can increase your risk for heart disease. From ages 20 to 59, men and women are at a similar risk for CAD. After age 60, however, the percentage of men affected rises to between 19.9 and 32.2 percent. Only 9.7 to 18.8 percent of women that age are affected.

Learn more about 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 show signs of heart disease. Others 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 and take an account of the symptoms you’ve been experiencing. Then they’ll 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.

Noninvasive tests

A variety of noninvasive tests may be used to diagnose heart disease.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This test can monitor your heart’s electrical activity and help your doctor spot any irregularities.
  • Echocardiogram. This ultrasound test can give your doctor a close picture of your heart’s structure.
  • Stress test. This exam is performed while you complete a strenuous activity, such as walking, running, or riding a stationary bike. During the test, your doctor can monitor your heart’s activity in response to changes in physical exertion.
  • Carotid ultrasound. To get a detailed ultrasound of your carotid arteries, your doctor may order this ultrasound test.
  • Holter monitor. Your doctor may ask you to wear this heart rate monitor for 24 to 48 hours. It allows them to get an extended view of your heart’s activity.
  • Tilt table test. If you’ve recently experienced fainting or lightheadedness when standing up or sitting down, your doctor may order this test. During it, you’re strapped to a table and slowly raised or lowered while they monitor your heart rateblood pressure, and oxygen levels.
  • CT scan. This imaging test gives your doctor a highly-detailed X-ray image of your heart.
  • Heart MRI. Like a CT scan, a heart MRI can provide a very detailed image of your heart and blood vessels.

Invasive tests

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 any unusual symptoms. Invasive tests may include:

  • Cardiac catheterization and coronary angiography. Your doctor may insert a catheter into your heart through the groin and arteries. The catheter will help them perform tests involving the heart and blood vessels. Once this catheter is in your heart, your doctor can perform a coronary angiography. During a coronary angiography, a dye is injected into the delicate arteries and capillaries surrounding the heart. The dye helps produce a highly detailed X-ray image.
  • Electrophysiology study. During this test, your doctor may attach electrodes to your heart through a catheter. When the electrodes are in place, your doctor can send electric pulses through and record how the heart responds.

Read more about the tests that are 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, they may take a two-pronged approach: prescribe a medication that can help lower your risk for additional plaque buildup and look to help you adopt healthy lifestyle changes.

Treatment for heart disease falls into three main categories:

Lifestyle changes

Healthy lifestyle choices can help you prevent heart disease. They can also help you treat the condition and prevent it from getting worse. Your diet is one of the first areas you may seek to change.

low-sodium, low-fat diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables may help you lower your risk for heart disease complications. One example is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

Likewise, getting regular exercise and quitting tobacco can help treat heart disease. Also look to reduce your 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 control your heart disease. Medications may also be prescribed to slow or stop the risk for complications. The exact drug you’re prescribed depends on the type of heart disease you have. Read more about the drugs that may be prescribed to 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.

For example, if you have arteries that are blocked entirely or almost completely by plaque buildup, your doctor may insert a stent in your artery to return regular blood flow. The procedure your doctor will perform depends on the type of heart disease you have and the extent of damage to your heart.

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Some risk factors for heart disease can’t be controlled, like your family history, for example. But it’s still important to lower your chance of developing heart disease by decreasing the risk factors that 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 less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, which is often expressed as “120 over 80” or “120/80 mm Hg.” 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 will depend on your risk factors and heart health history. If you’re at 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.

Find ways to manage stress

As simple as it sounds, managing stress can also lower your risk for heart disease. Don’t underestimate chronic stress as a contributor to heart disease. Speak with your doctor if you’re frequently overwhelmed, anxious, or are coping with stressful life events, such as moving, changing jobs, or going through a divorce.

Embrace a healthier lifestyle

Eating healthy foods and exercising regularly are also important. Make sure to avoid foods high in saturated fat and salt. Doctors recommend 30 to 60 minutes of exerciseTrusted Source on most days for a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes each week. Check with your doctor to make sure you can safely meet these guidelines, especially if you already have a heart condition.

If you smoke, stop. The nicotine in cigarettes causes blood vessels to constrict, making it harder for oxygenated blood to circulate. This can lead to atherosclerosis.

Learn more about ways you can lower your risk for and possibly prevent heart disease.

If you’ve recently received a heart disease diagnosis, talk to your doctor about steps you can take to stay as healthy as possible. You can prepare for your appointment by creating a detailed list of your everyday habits. Possible topics include:

  • medications you take
  • your regular exercise routine
  • your typical diet
  • any family history of heart disease or stroke
  • personal history of high blood pressure or diabetes
  • any symptoms you’re experiencing, such as a racing heart, dizziness, or lack of energy

Seeing your doctor regularly is just one lifestyle habit you can take up. If you do, any potential issues can be caught as early as possible. Certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure, may be addressed with medications to lower your risk of heart disease.

Your doctor may also provide tips for:

  • quitting smoking
  • controlling blood pressure
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
  • losing weight if you’re overweight
  • eating healthy

Making these changes all at once might not be possible. Discuss with your healthcare provider which lifestyle changes will have the biggest impact. Even small steps toward these goals will help keep you at your healthiest.

Read more about the importance of lifestyle changes in helping treat and prevent heart disease.

Hypertensive heart disease is a condition caused by chronic high blood pressure. Hypertension requires your heart to pump harder in order to circulate your blood through your body. This increased pressure can lead to several types of heart problems, including a thick, enlarged heart muscle and narrowed arteries.

The extra force your heart must use to pump blood can make your heart muscles harder and thicker. This can impact how well your heart pumps. Hypertensive heart disease can make arteries less elastic and more rigid. That can slow blood circulation and prevent your body from getting the oxygen-rich blood it needs.

Hypertensive heart disease is the top cause of death for people with high blood pressure, so it’s important you begin to treat high blood pressure as soon as you can. Treatment can stop complications and possibly prevent additional damage.

Read more about hypertensive heart disease.

Heart disease can’t be cured or reversed. It requires a lifetime of treatment and careful monitoring. Many of the symptoms of heart disease can be relieved with medications, procedures, and lifestyle changes. When these methods fail, coronary intervention or bypass surgery might be used.

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of heart disease or if you have risk factors for heart disease, make an appointment to see your doctor. Together, the two of you can weigh your risks, conduct a few screening tests, and make a plan for staying healthy.

It’s important to take charge of your overall health now, before a diagnosis may be made. This is especially true if you have a family history of heart disease or conditions that increase your risk for heart disease. Taking care of your body and your heart can pay off for many years to come.

What Is Coronary Artery Disease?


Coronary artery disease (CAD) causes impaired blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Also called coronary heart disease (CHD), CAD is the most common form of heart disease and affects approximately 16.5 million Americans over the age of 20.

It’s also the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It’s estimated that every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.

heart attack can come from uncontrolled CAD.

The most common cause of CAD is vascular injury with cholesterol plaque buildup in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. Reduced blood flow occurs when one or more of these arteries becomes partially or completely blocked.

The four primary coronary arteries are located on the surface of the heart:

These arteries bring oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your heart. Your heart is a muscle that’s responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy heart moves approximately 3,000 gallons of blood through your body every day.

Like any other organ or muscle, your heart must receive an adequate, dependable supply of blood in order to carry out its work. Reduced blood flow to your heart can cause symptoms of CAD.

Other rare causes of damage or blockage to a coronary artery also limit blood flow to the heart.

When your heart doesn’t get enough arterial blood, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Angina (chest discomfort) is the most common symptom of CAD. Some people describe this discomfort as:

These symptoms can also be mistaken for heartburn or indigestion.

Other symptoms of CAD include:

You may experience more symptoms when your blood flow is more restricted. If a blockage cuts off blood flow completely or almost completely, your heart muscle will start to die if not restored. This is a heart attack.

Don’t ignore any of these symptoms, especially if they are excruciating or last longer than five minutes. Immediate medical treatment is necessary.

Symptoms of CAD for women

Women may also experience the above symptoms, but they’re also more likely to have:

Men have a higher risk of developing heart disease than premenopausal women. Postmenopausal women by age 70 have the same risk as men.

Due to decreased blood flow, your heart may also:

  • become weak
  • develop abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia) or rates
  • fail to pump as much blood as your body needs

Your doctor will detect these heart abnormalities during diagnosis.

Understanding the risk factors for CAD can help with your plan to prevent or decrease the likelihood of developing the disease.

Risk factors include:

The risk for CAD also increases with age. Based on age alone as a risk factor, men have a greater risk for the disease beginning at age 45 and women have a greater risk beginning at age 55. The risk for coronary artery disease is also higher if you have a family history of the disease.

Diagnosing CAD requires a review of your medical history, a physical examination, and other medical testing. These tests include:

  • Electrocardiogram: This test monitors electrical signals that travel through your heart. It may help your doctor determine whether you’ve had a heart attack.
  • Echocardiogram: This imaging test uses ultrasound waves to create a picture of your heart. The results of this test reveal whether certain things in your heart are functioning properly.
  • Stress test: This particular test measures the stress on your heart during physical activity and while at rest. The test monitors your heart’s electrical activity while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. Nuclear imaging may also be performed for a portion of this test. For those unable to perform physical exercise, certain medications can be used instead for stress testing.
  • Cardiac catheterization (left heart catheterization): During this procedure, your doctor injects a special dye into your coronary arteries through a catheter inserted through an artery in your groin or forearm. The dye helps enhance the radiographic image of your coronary arteries to identify any blockages.
  • Heart CT scan: Your doctor may use this imaging test to check for calcium deposits in your arteries.
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It’s important to reduce or control your risk factors and seek treatment to lower the chance of a heart attack or stroke, if you’re diagnosed with CAD. Treatment also depends on your current health condition, risk factors, and overall wellbeing. For example, your doctor may prescribe medication therapy to treat high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or you may receive medication to control blood sugar if you have diabetes.

Lifestyle changes can also reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. For example:

If your condition doesn’t improve with lifestyle changes and medication, your doctor may recommend a procedure to increase blood flow to your heart. These procedures may be:

Everyone’s outlook for CAD is different. You have better chances of preventing extensive damage to your heart the earlier you can start your treatment or implement lifestyle changes.

It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions. Take medications as directed and make the recommended lifestyle changes. If you have a higher risk for CAD, you can help to prevent the disease by reducing your risk factors.

50% of heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol

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Last medically reviewed on January 23, 2018

Medically reviewed by Stacy Sampson, D.O. — Written by Valencia Higuera — Updated on June 23, 2020

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How Is Heart Disease Diagnosed?

Testing for heart disease

Heart disease is any condition that affects your heart, such as coronary artery disease and arrhythmia. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, heart disease is responsible for 1 in 4 four deaths in the United States each year. It’s a leading cause of death in both men and women.

To diagnose heart disease, your doctor will perform a series of tests and evaluations. They may also use some of these tests to screen you for heart disease before you develop noticeable symptoms.

Symptoms of a heart problem can include:

  • fainting
  • slow or fast heartbeat
  • chest tightness
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • sudden swelling in your legs, feet, ankles, or abdomen

If you have any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help lower your risk of complications, like heart attack or stroke.

During your appointment, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and your family medical history. They’ll also check your heart rate and blood pressure.

Your doctor may also order blood tests. For example, cholesterol tests measure the levels of fat and cholesterol in your bloodstream. Your doctor can use these tests to help determine your risk of heart disease and heart attack.

A complete cholesterol test checks four types of fats in your blood:

  • Total cholesterol is the sum of all cholesterol in your blood.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. Too much of it causes fat to build up in your arteries, which reduces blood flow. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is sometimes called “good” cholesterol. It helps carry away LDL cholesterol and clear your arteries.
  • Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood. High levels of triglycerides are often associated with diabetes, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Your doctor may also order C-reactive protein (CRP) tests to check your body for signs of inflammation. They can use the results of your CRP and cholesterol tests to assess your risk of heart disease.

After completing a physical examination and blood tests, your doctor may order additional noninvasive tests. Noninvasive means the tests don’t involve tools that break the skin or physically enter the body. There are many noninvasive tests available to help your doctor check for heart disease.


An electrocardiogram (EKG) is a short test that monitors the electrical activity in your heart. It records this activity on a strip of paper. Your doctor may use this test to check for an irregular heartbeat or heart damage.


An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of your heart. It uses sound waves to create a picture of your heart. Your doctor may use it to evaluate your heart valves and heart muscles.

Stress test

To diagnose heart problems, your doctor may need to examine you while you’re doing strenuous activity. During a stress test, they may ask you to ride a stationary bike or walk or run on a treadmill for several minutes. They’ll monitor your body’s reaction to stress as your heart rate increases.

Carotid ultrasound

carotid duplex scan uses sound waves to create pictures of your carotid arteries on both sides of your neck. It allows your doctor to check for a buildup of plaque in your arteries and assess your risk of stroke.

Holter monitor

If your doctor needs to monitor your heart over a period 24 to 48 hours, they’ll ask you to wear a device called a Holter monitor. This small machine works like a continuous EKG. Your doctor can use it to check for heart abnormalities that can go undetected on a normal EKG, such as arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.

Chest X-ray

chest X-ray uses a small amount of radiation to create images of your chest, including your heart. It can help your doctor determine the cause of shortness of breath or chest pains.

Tilt table test

Your doctor may perform a tilt table test if you’ve fainted. They’ll ask you to lie on a table that moves from a horizontal to a vertical position. As the table moves, they’ll monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen level. The results can help your doctor determine whether your fainting was caused by heart disease or another condition.

CT scan

CT scan uses multiple X-ray images to create a cross-sectional image of your heart. Your doctor may use different types of CT scans to diagnose heart disease. For example, they may use a calcium score screening heart scan to check for calcium deposits in your coronary arteries. Or they may use coronary CT angiography to check for fat or calcium deposits in your arteries.

Heart MRI

In an MRI, large magnets and radio waves create images of the inside of your body. During a heart MRI, a technician creates images of your blood vessels and heart while it’s beating. After the test, your doctor can use the images to diagnose many conditions, such as heart muscle diseases and coronary artery disease.

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Sometimes noninvasive tests don’t provide enough answers. Your doctor may need to use an invasive procedure to diagnose heart disease. Invasive procedures involve tools that physically enter the body, such as a needle, tube, or scope.

Coronary angiography and cardiac catheterization

During cardiac catheterization, your doctor inserts a long flexible tube through a blood vessel in your groin or other part of your body. Then they move this tube toward your heart. Your doctor can use it to conduct tests to check for blood vessel problems and heart abnormalities.

For example, your doctor may complete a coronary angiography with catheterization. They’ll inject a special dye into the blood vessels of your heart. Then they’ll use an X-ray to look at your coronary arteries. They can use this test to look for narrowed or blocked arteries.

Electrophysiology study

If you have abnormal heart rhythms, your doctor may conduct an electrophysiology study to determine the cause and best treatment plan. During this test, your doctor feeds an electrode catheter through your blood vessel to your heart. They use this electrode to send electric signals to your heart and create a map of its electrical activity.

Your doctor may try to restore your natural heart rhythm by prescribing medications or other treatments.

If you suspect you may have heart disease, make an appointment with your doctor. Factors that put you at a higher risk for heart disease include:

  • family history of heart disease
  • history of smoking
  • obesity
  • poor diet
  • age

Your doctor may perform a physical examination, order blood tests, or use other tests to check for problems with your heart or blood vessels. These tests can help them diagnose heart disease and develop a treatment plan.

Complications of heart disease include heart attack and stroke. You can reduce the risk of complications with early diagnosis and treatment. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns. They’ll teach you how to identify symptoms of heart disease and maintain a healthy heart.

50% of heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol

Test your inflammation levels plus cholesterol with imaware's at-home cardiovascular health test. Results guaranteed within 7 days.

Last medically reviewed on February 16, 2018

Medically reviewed by Gerhard Whitworth, R.N. — Written by Valencia Higuera — Updated on September 29, 2018

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Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease in Men

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is one of the leading health risks facing men today. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), more than one in three adult men has heart disease. Heart disease is an umbrella term that includes:

  • heart failure
  • coronary artery disease
  • arrhythmias
  • angina
  • other heart-related infections, irregularities, and birth defects

Although it may seem that something so serious should have warning signs, it’s possible to develop heart disease without knowing it as you go about your daily life. Know the early signs of heart disease — as well as risk factors — so you can get treatment early and prevent more serious health problems.

Many men are at high risk of developing heart disease. The AHA reported in 2013 that only a quarter of men met federal guidelines for physical activity in 2011. They also estimated that 72.9 percent of U.S. men age 20 and older are overweight or obese. And about 20 percent of men smoke, which can cause the blood vessels to narrow. Narrowed blood vessels are a precursor to certain types of heart disease.

Other risk factors include:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, nearly half of all Americans — both men and women — have three or more risk factors for heart disease.

The first sign of heart disease is often a heart attack or other serious event. But, there are a few important signs that can help you recognize problems before they come to a head.

In the early stages, symptoms that seem like mere annoyances may come and go. For example, you may have heart arrhythmias, which can cause:

  • difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion, like walking up a flight of stairs
  • a sense of discomfort or squeezing in your chest that lasts for 30 minutes to a few hours
  • unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw
  • a heartbeat that is faster, slower, or more irregular than usual
  • dizziness or fainting

Heart disease that involves your blood vessels is often signaled by:

  • angina (chest pain)
  • shortness of breath
  • changes in your extremities, such as pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, coldness, and weakness
  • extreme fatigue
  • irregular heartbeat

These symptoms can be signs that your blood vessels have narrowed. This narrowing, which can be caused by plaque buildup, makes it more difficult for your heart to circulate oxygenated blood throughout your body.

In addition to the above symptoms, heart disease caused by an infection of the heart can include dry cough, fever, and skin rashes.

A cluster of risk factors may also signal impending heart disease. For example, your risk of heart disease significantly increases if you have diabetes and high blood pressure.

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heart attack occurs when heart disease has reached the point where blood stops flowing to the muscle of the heart. The most common sign of heart attack in men is chest discomfort that includes squeezing, pressure, or pain. It used to be thought that only chest pain was a sign of heart attack, but it’s possible to have discomfort that doesn’t register as painful. This discomfort may also be present in your arms, back, neck, abdomen, or jaw.

During a heart attack, you may have:

  • shortness of breath
  • profuse sweating for no apparent reason
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness

Symptoms of a stroke include numbness or weakness that only happens on one side of your body. The numbness may occur in your face, arms, or legs. Other symptoms of stroke include:

  • confusion, difficulty speaking, or trouble comprehending others
  • imbalance or loss of coordination
  • changes in vision
  • intense headache

Many of these changes occur suddenly and without warning. Call 911 immediately if you experience these symptoms.

According to the CDCTrusted Source, 50 percent of men who will die from coronary heart disease don’t know they have it because of a lack of symptoms. Knowing the signs of a heart attack or stroke is one of the most important things you can do to safeguard your cardiac health. Your ability to recover from one of these events depends on how quickly you receive treatment for them.

It can be difficult to determine if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if you’re concerned about any symptoms you have.

It’s crucial to reduce your risk factors for heart disease whether you have symptoms or not. Schedule regular checkups even if you think you’re in excellent health. Establishing a baseline for your health will help you and your doctor address any concerns that arise in the future.


Last medically reviewed on August 10, 2017

Medically reviewed by Suzanne Falck, M.D., FACP — Written by Robin Donovan — Updated on September 17, 2018

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Types of Heart Disease in Children

Heart disease in children

Heart disease is difficult enough when it strikes adults, but it can be especially tragic in children.

Many different types of heart problems can affect children. They include congenital heart defects, viral infections that affect the heart, and even heart disease acquired later in childhood due to illnesses or genetic syndromes.

The good news is that with advances in medicine and technology, many children with heart disease go on to live active, full lives.

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a type of heart disease that children are born with, usually caused by heart defects that are present at birth. In the U.S., an estimated 1 percentTrusted Source of babies born each year have CHD.

CHDs that affect children include:

  • heart valve disorders like a narrowing of the aortic valve, which restricts blood flow
  • hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped
  • disorders involving holes in the heart, typically in the walls between the chambers and between major blood vessels leaving the heart, including:
  • tetralogy of Fallot, which is a combination of four defects, including:
    • a hole in the ventricular septum
    • a narrowed passage between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery
    • a thickened right side of the heart
    • a displaced aorta

Congenital heart defects may have long-term effects on a child’s health. They’re usually treated with surgery, catheter procedures, medications, and in severe cases, heart transplants.

Some children will require lifelong monitoring and treatment.

Atherosclerosis is the term used to describe the buildup of fat and cholesterol-filled plaques inside arteries. As the buildup increases, arteries become stiffened and narrowed, which increases the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. It typically takes many years for atherosclerosis to develop. It’s unusual for children or teenagers to suffer from it.

However, obesitydiabeteshypertension, and other health issues put children at higher risk. Doctors recommend screening for high cholesterol and high blood pressure in children who have risk factors like family history of heart disease or diabetes and are overweight or obese.

Treatment typically involves lifestyle changes like increased exercise and dietary modifications.

An arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. This can cause the heart to pump less efficiently.

Many different types of arrhythmias may occur in children, including:

Symptoms may include:

  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • difficulty feeding

Treatments depend on the type of arrhythmia and how it’s affecting the child’s health.

Kawasaki disease is a rare disease that primarily affects children and can cause inflammation in the blood vessels in their hands, feet, mouth, lips, and throat. It also produces a fever and swelling in the lymph nodes. Researchers aren’t sure yet what causes it.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the illness is a major cause of heart conditions in as many as 1 in 4 children. Most are under the age of 5.

Treatment depends on the extent of the disease, but often involves prompt treatment with intravenous gamma globulin or aspirin (Bufferin). Corticosteroids can sometimes reduce future complications. Children who suffer from this disease often require lifelong follow-up appointments to keep an eye on heart health.

heart murmur is a “whooshing” sound made by blood circulating through the heart’s chambers or valves, or through blood vessels near the heart. Often it’s harmless. Other times it may signal an underlying cardiovascular problem.

Heart murmurs may be caused by CHDs, fever, or anemia. If a doctor hears an abnormal heart murmur in a child, they’ll perform additional tests to be sure the heart is healthy. “Innocent” heart murmurs usually resolve by themselves, but if the heart murmur is caused by a problem with the heart, it may require additional treatment.

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This condition occurs when the thin sac or membrane that surrounds the heart (pericardium) becomes inflamed or infected. The amount of fluid between its two layers increases, impairing the heart’s ability to pump blood like it should.

Pericarditis may occur after surgery to repair a CHD, or it may be caused by bacterial infections, chest traumas, or connective tissue disorders like lupus. Treatments depend on the severity of the disease, the child’s age, and their overall health.

When left untreated, the streptococcus bacteria that cause strep throat and scarlet fever can also cause rheumatic heart disease.

This disease can seriously and permanently damage the heart valves and the heart muscle (by causing heart muscle inflammation, known as myocarditis). According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, rheumatic fever typically occurs in children ages 5 to 15, but usually the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease don’t show up for 10 to 20 years after the original illness. Rheumatic fever and subsequent rheumatic heart disease are now uncommon in the U.S.

This disease can be prevented by promptly treating strep throat with antibiotics.

Viruses, in addition to causing respiratory illness or the flu, can also affect heart health. Viral infections can cause myocarditis, which may affect the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body.

Viral infections of the heart are rare and may show few symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they’re similar to flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort. Treatment involves medications and treatments for the symptoms of myocarditis.

Read more: What are the symptoms of different types of heart disease? »


Last medically reviewed on May 11, 2017

Medically reviewed by Karen Gill, M.D. — Written by Colleen M. Story — Updated on August 22, 2018

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Open-Heart Surgery


Open-heart surgery is any type of surgery where the chest is cut open and surgery is performed on the muscles, valves, or arteries of the heart.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)Trusted Sourcecoronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is the most common type of heart surgery done on adults. During this surgery, a healthy artery or vein is grafted (attached) to a blocked coronary artery. This allows the grafted artery to “bypass” the blocked artery and bring fresh blood to the heart.

Open-heart surgery is sometimes called traditional heart surgery. Today, many new heart procedures can be performed with only small incisions, not wide openings. Therefore, the term “open-heart surgery” can be misleading.

Open-heart surgery may be done to perform a CABG. A coronary artery bypass graft may be necessary for people with coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease occurs when the blood vessels that provide blood and oxygen to the heart muscle become narrow and hard. This is often called “hardening of the arteries.”

Hardening occurs when fatty material forms a plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries. This plaque narrows the arteries, making it difficult for blood to get through. When blood can’t flow properly to the heart, a heart attack may occur.

Open-heart surgery is also done to:

  • repair or replace heart valves, which allow blood to travel through the heart
  • repair damaged or abnormal areas of the heart
  • implant medical devices that help the heart beat properly
  • replace a damaged heart with a donated heart (heart transplantation)

According to the National Institutes of HealthTrusted Source, a CABG takes from three to six hours. It’s generally done following these basic steps:

  • The patient is given general anesthesia. This ensures that they will be asleep and pain free through the whole surgery.
  • The surgeon makes an 8- to 10-inch cut in the chest.
  • The surgeon cuts through all or part of the patient’s breastbone to expose the heart.
  • Once the heart is visible, the patient may be connected to a heart-lung bypass machine. The machine moves blood away from the heart so that the surgeon can operate. Some newer procedures do not use this machine.
  • The surgeon uses a healthy vein or artery to make a new path around the blocked artery.
  • The surgeon closes the breastbone with wire, leaving the wire inside the body.
  • The original cut is stitched up.

Sometimes sternal plating is done for people at high risk, such as those who’ve had multiple surgeries or people of advanced age. Sternal plating is when the breastbone is rejoined with small titanium plates after the surgery.

Risks for open-heart surgery include:

According to the Heart and Vascular Center at the University of Chicago Medicine, the heart-lung bypass machine is associated with increased risks. These risks include stroke and neurological problems.

Tell your doctor about any drugs you are taking, even over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbs. Inform them of any illnesses you have, including herpes outbreak, cold, flu, or fever.

In the two weeks before the surgery, your doctor may ask you to quit smoking and stop taking blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about your alcohol consumption before you prepare for the surgery. If you typically have three or more drinks a day and stop right before you go into surgery, you may go into alcohol withdrawal. This may cause life-threatening complications after open-heart surgery, including seizures or tremors. Your doctor can help you with alcohol withdrawal to reduce the likelihood of these complications.

The day before the surgery, you may be asked to wash yourself with a special soap. This soap is used to kill bacteria on your skin and will lessen the chance of an infection after surgery. You may also be asked not to eat or drink anything after midnight.

Your healthcare provider will give you more detailed instructions when you arrive at the hospital for surgery.

When you wake up after surgery, you will have two or three tubes in your chest. These are to help drain fluid from the area around your heart. You may have intravenous (IV) lines in your arm to supply you with fluids, as well as a catheter (thin tube) in your bladder to remove urine.

You will also be attached to machines that monitor your heart. Nurses will be nearby to help you if something should arise.

You will usually spend your first night in the intensive care unit (ICU). You will then be moved to a regular care room for the next three to seven days.

Taking care of yourself at home immediately after the surgery is an essential part of your recovery.

Incision care

Incision care is extremely important. Keep your incision site warm and dry, and wash your hands before and after touching it. If your incision is healing properly and there is no drainage, you can take a shower. The shower shouldn’t be more than 10 minutes with warm (not hot) water. You should ensure that the incision site isn’t hit directly by the water. It’s also important to regularly inspect your incision sites for signs of infection, which include:

  • increased drainage, oozing, or opening from the incision site
  • redness around the incision
  • warmth along the incision line
  • fever

Pain management

Pain management is also incredibly important, as it can increase recovery speed and decrease the likelihood of complications like blood clots or pneumonia. You may feel muscle painthroat pain, pain at incision sites, or pain from chest tubes. Your doctor will likely prescribe pain medication that you can take at home. It’s important that you take it as prescribed. Some doctors recommend taking the pain medication both before physical activity and before you sleep.

Get enough sleep

Some patients experience trouble sleeping after open-heart surgery, but it’s important to get as much rest as possible. To get better sleep, you can:

  • take your pain medication a half hour before bed
  • arrange pillows to decrease muscle strain
  • avoid caffeine, especially in the evenings

In the past, some have argued that open-heart surgery leads to a decline in mental functioning. However, most recent research has found that not to be the case. Though some patients may have open-heart surgery and experience mental decline later on, it’s thought that this is most likely due to the natural effects of aging.

Some people do experience depression or anxiety after open-heart surgery. A therapist or psychologist can help you manage these effects.


Most people who’ve had a CABG benefit from participating in a structured, comprehensive rehabilitation program. This is usually done outpatient with visits several times a week. The components to the program include exercise, reducing risk factors, and dealing with stressanxiety, and depression.

Expect a gradual recovery. It may take up to six weeks before you start feeling better, and up to six months to feel the full benefits of the surgery. However, the outlook is good for many people, and the grafts can work for many years.

Nevertheless, surgery does not prevent artery blockage from happening again. You can help improve your heart health by:

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