“Heart disease” is a general term applied to several medical conditions that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, or other illnesses. Medical News Today includes only disease directly affecting the heart, otherwise known as “cardiac disease.” However, when many people speak of heart disease they also mean cardiovascular diseases that affect the blood vessels as well.

According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the Western world, particularly in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. About one in four deaths is the United States are due to heart disease.

What Types of Disease Are Included in Heart Disease?

There are several conditions or illnesses that are classified as heart disease including:

Angina Pectoris - This term means that the muscles of the heart are not getting oxygen due to the narrowing of the coronary arteries. This narrowing of the arteries is due to plaque accumulation, also known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is caused by a buildup of hard, fatty material such as cholesterol. The old term for this condition is “hardening of the arteries.” Consumption of a diet high in saturated fats has been linked to this condition, as well as lack of physical exercise.

Arrythmia - An irregular heartbeat is known as arrhythmia and can include one of several types of disorders. Tachycardia is the term for a heart that beats too fast. This can be caused by a number of things, including drugs, alcohol, disease or even stress. Bradycardia, when the heart beats slowly, is another disorder that can also be caused by certain medications or illnesses. The heart can also beat irregularly, in a condition known as fibrillation, or contract irregularly, causing a heart “murmur.”

Congenital Heart Disease - Some babies are born with certain defects of the heart that may not be apparent for years. Septal defects, for example, mean that the child has a hole between two chambers of the heart, and cyanotic disease means that the body is not getting enough oxygen because of a defect in the heart’s structure that leads to poor blood circulation.

Coronary Artery Disease - By far the most common heart defect, coronary artery disease is damage to the arteries that carry blood to the heart. This is usually caused by plaque buildup in the arteries around the heart and often leads to heart attack.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy - This disease is also known as an “enlarged heart” and is often caused by coronary artery disease.

Myocardial Infarction - This is the medical term for what is commonly known as a “heart attack.” It happens when a blood clot develops in one of the coronary arteries or when a sudden spasm of the artery occurs.

Congestive Heart Failure - This condition is the result of poor blood circulation and is often caused by coronary artery disease or high blood pressure

Hypertropic Cardiomyopathy - This is a genetic disease that thickens the walls of the left ventricle of the heart. It makes it difficult for blood to leave the heart and force the heart to work harder to pump blood. Sudden deaths in very young people due to “heart attack” are often the work of hypertropic cardiomyopathy, especially in athletes.

Mitral Valve Regurgitation - This is a condition that affects the mitral valve of the heart, allowing blood to flow back into the heart when it pumps. Symptoms include feeling tired and out of breath. Mitral valve prolapse is often a pre-cursor to mitral valve regurgitation, but patients with prolapse may show no symptoms at first.

Pulmonary Stenosis - When the pulmonary valve is too tight, it causes the right ventricle of the heart to have to work very hard to pump blood. This can result in a bluish tinge to the skin, especially in infants. Open heart surgery is often required to correct the problem.

What Can I Do To Reduce My Chances of Heart Disease?

While some heart disease is unavoidable due to genetic conditions or congenital defects, the majority of heart disease can be prevented by following a few simple rules.

  • Watch Your Diet – Carrying extra pounds, especially around the middle of the body, has been linked to heart disease. Shed the weight by eating a diet rich in whole grains, complex carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables, and limiting fats, sugars and starches
  • Exercise – The CDC recommends two hours and 30 minutes per week of aerobic exercise in increments of no less than ten minutes at a time. Aerobic exercise is defined as activities that raise your heart rate so that you can talk but not sing comfortably. This generally indicates an activity level of about 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. The CDC also recommends two days per week of muscle-strengthening exercise.
  • Do Not Smoke – Smoking leads to contraction of the blood vessels that can increase your risk for cardiac disease
  • Get Regular Checkups – At least once a year, have your doctor give you a full check-up that includes a blood pressure check and an audible examination of the heart’s performance with a stethoscope. Doctors can quickly hear irregularities in your heartbeat, so it is a good idea to have your physician listen to your heart each time you visit. Any irregularities should be checked out immediately.

Following these simple guidelines can help reduce your chances of heart disease and keep your whole body healthy.