Heart disease involves a range of conditions that affect the heart. Conditions that may cause heart disease include blood vessel disease such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), and congenital heart defects.

Heart disease is sometimes referred to as cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is generally associated with conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Heart conditions such as those that affect the heart muscle, valves or rhythm are also considered forms of heart disease.

Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle changes.



Symptoms of heart disease vary according to the type of heart disease.


Symptoms of heart disease in the blood vessels (atherosclerotic disease)


  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in the legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts are narrowed
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back


Symptoms of heart disease caused by heart arrhythmias


  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting


Symptoms of congenital heart defects


  • Pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes
  • In infants, shortness of breath during feedings leading to poor weight gain


Less serious symptoms of congenital heart defects


  • Shortness of breath during exercise or activity
  • Easily tiring during exercise or activity
  • Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet


Symptoms of heart disease caused by weak heart muscle (dilated cardiomyopathy)


  • Shortness of breath with exertion or at rest
  • Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular heartbeats that feel rapid, pounding or fluttering
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness and fainting


Symptoms of heart disease caused by heart infections


  • Pericarditis: It affects the tissue surrounding the heart (pericardium)
  • Myocarditis: It affects the muscular middle layer of the walls of the heart (myocardium)
  • Endocarditis: It affects the inner membrane that separates the chambers and valves of the heart (endocardium)


Symptoms of heart infection may include:


  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Swelling in the legs or abdomen
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Dry or persistent cough
  • Skin rashes or unusual spots

Symptoms of heart disease caused by valvular heart disease


  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling in the feet or ankles
  • Chest pain
  • Fainting (syncope)



The causes of heart disease vary according to the type of heart disease.


Causes of cardiovascular disease


Cardiovascular disease is caused by damage to the heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty plaques in the arteries. The buildup of plaque thickens and stiffens the artery walls, which obstructs blood flow through the arteries.

Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It can be caused by unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking.


Causes of heart arrhythmia


  • Congenital heart defects
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Excessive use of alcohol or caffeine
  • Diabetes
  • Drug abuse
  • Stress
  • Certain over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements and herbal remedies
  • Valvular heart disease


Causes of congenital heart defects

Heart defects can develop as the heart develops in the womb changing the flow of blood in the heart. Certain medical conditions, medications and genes can contribute to the development of heart defects. Moreover, heart defects can also develop in adults because the heart’s structure can change over time.


Causes of cardiomyopathy (thickening or enlarging of the heart muscle)


  • Dilated cardiomyopathy: This form may be caused by reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemic heart disease), infections, toxins and certain drugs or it may be inherited.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: This form of cardiomyopathy causes the heart muscle to become rigid and less elastic and it may occur for no apparent reason or it may be caused by connective tissue disorders or excessive iron buildup in the body or by certain cancer treatments.


Causes of heart infection


  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites


Causes of valvular heart disease


  • Rheumatic fever
  • Infections (infectious endocarditis)
  • Connective tissue disorders


Risk factors

Risk factors for heart disease include:


  • Increasing age
  • Being male
  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  •  Obesity
  • Stress
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor hygiene



Possible complications of heart disease include:


  • Heart failure: Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump sufficient blood necessary for the body.
  • Heart attack: Heart attack may result from a blood clot blocking the blood flow or atherosclerosis.
  • Stroke: An ischemic stroke can occur when the arteries to the brain are narrowed or blocked reducing blood flow to the brain.
  • Aneurysm: Aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of the artery, which if it bursts can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
  • Peripheral artery disease: Peripheral artery disease occurs when the extremities, usually the legs, don’t receive enough blood flow.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest: Sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness often caused by an arrhythmia.




  • Quit smoking
  • Managing other health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
  • Regular exercise
  • Healthy diet
  • Healthy weight
  • Reduce and manage stress
  • Good hygiene