Four valves within your heart keep your blood moving the right way by opening only one way and only when they need to. To function properly, the valve must be formed properly, must open all the way and must close tightly so there's no leakage. The four valves are:
A beating heart contracts and relaxes in a continuous cycle.
Your heart's electrical wiring keeps it beating, which controls the continuous exchange of oxygen-rich blood with oxygen-poor blood. This exchange keeps you alive.
Various heart disease causes
The causes of heart disease vary by type of heart disease.
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:
In a healthy person with a normal, healthy heart, it's unlikely for a fatal arrhythmia to develop without some outside trigger, such as an electrical shock or the use of illegal drugs. That's primarily because a healthy person's heart is free from any abnormal conditions that cause an arrhythmia, such as an area of scarred tissue.
However, in a heart that's diseased or deformed, the heart's electrical impulses may not properly start or travel through the heart, making arrhythmias more likely to develop.
Causes of congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects usually develop while a baby is in the womb. Heart defects can develop as the heart develops, about a month after conception, changing the flow of blood in the heart. Some medical conditions, medications and genes may play a role in causing heart defects.
Heart defects can also develop in adults. As you age, your heart's structure can change, causing a heart defect.
Causes of cardiomyopathy
The cause of cardiomyopathy, a thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle, may depend on the type:
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:
Risk factors for developing heart disease include:
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:
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:
The term heart infection may be used to describe conditions such as endocarditis or myocarditis. Symptoms of a heart infection include:
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.
A variety of noninvasive tests may be used to diagnose heart disease.
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:
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:
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.
A 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.
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 exercise 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