General Health

Heart Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

The cardiovascular system is a critical part of ensuring the body can continue to function.

At the center of the cardiovascular system is the heart, an organ that pumps blood through the body.

The blood that is pumped through the body contains oxygen and nutrients – two elements that are important for the survival of all cells and tissue. The cardiovascular system also consists of capillaries, veins, and arteries.

While the cardiovascular system is usually able to perform its functions, there are cases where disease, inflammation, and other factors can cause damage. In these cases, heart disease may develop.

Different types of diseases affect the cardiovascular system. Some of these can lead to fatal complications, especially when the condition is not identified and treated at an early stage.

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a term that is used to describe a large number of conditions that are known to affect the cardiovascular system.

More particularly, the term heart disease generally refers to those conditions that may directly impact the heart itself. Several different conditions fall within this category.

Some heart diseases can be easily treated with lifestyle changes and the right medication. Other conditions that affect the heart, however, tend to be chronic. Common conditions that tend to be classified under the category of heart disease include:

  • Coronary artery disease: a condition where the coronary arteries become narrowed. In some cases, the narrowing of these arteries may be caused by a blockage. The condition is also known as atherosclerosis.

  • Arrhythmias: Abnormalities with the rhythm of the heartbeat. While not a condition itself, it is often considered an indication of a more serious problem that the patient has developed. Arrhythmias may present in different ways, including as an irregular pattern in the rhythm of the heartbeat.

  • Congenital heart defects: Refers to a problem with the heart’s structure that is present from birth. Among all types of congenital disabilities, problems with the heart seem to be the most prevalent. Different types of congenital heart defects may affect a newborn baby, including issues with the heart valves, the arteries that are in a close perimeter to the heart, and the walls of the organ.

  • Valvular heart disease: A disease that is caused by damage that has occurred with one of the heart valves. In some cases, the disease also refers to defects that affect one or more of these valves. The heart has four valves that can be affected. These include the pulmonary, tricuspid, aortic, and mitral valves.

  • Cardiomyopathy: A disease that affects the heart muscle. The condition makes it more difficult for the heart to effectively pump blood throughout the entire body. In turn, this can cause several complications, with a particular focus being placed on the progression to heart failure.

  • Infections of the heart: Infection occurs when microorganisms attach to the heart and start to reproduce. Various types of microorganisms, including bacterium strains, can cause infection of the heart. This can lead to life-threatening complications.

Each condition has specific effects on the human body and a unique way of affecting the cardiovascular system.

The development of these conditions can cause difficulty with the heart’s ability to pump blood, as well as increase the risk of experiencing complications such as heart attacks, strokes, and more.

High blood pressure, a condition referred to as hypertension, is another essential factor to notice. This condition can lead to blood vessel damage and also lead to problems with the heart.

Symptoms Of Heart Disease

Several symptoms may occur when a patient develops heart disease. The specific symptoms that may be experienced depending on the particular heart disease.

It should also be noted that there are cases, such as with hypertension, where the initial stages of the condition would not cause any obvious symptoms. As the disease progresses, however, the patient may start to notice the development of certain symptoms.

People need to be aware of common symptoms that may indicate the development of heart disease. This is critical since early detection of most conditions related to the heart can yield a more successful treatment plan.

In cases where a chronic heart disease develops, early detection and treatment of the condition can help to slow down the progression.

We will consider the most common symptoms that are associated with specific heart diseases since each condition affects the heart differently and leads to unique symptoms.

Coronary Heart Disease Symptoms

Common symptoms that have been associated with coronary heart disease include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea

  • Chest pain also called angina

  • An increase in sweating

  • There may also be an irregular heartbeat

It is important to note that when angina is experienced, some people may associate the symptoms with a heart attack. Angina and a heart attack are not the same, however. With angina, pain may also radiate from the chest toward the back, neck, and to the patient’s arm.

In some patients with coronary heart disease (CHD), symptoms may also include indigestion.

Valvular Heart Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of valvular heart disease, a condition also sometimes referred to as heart valve disease, most often include:

  • The patient will have shortness of breath, especially when they have engaged in physical activity.

  • There may be swelling in the patient’s feet and ankles.

  • Fainting and dizziness may occur in some patients, especially with the progression of the disease.

  • The patient’s heartbeat may be irregular.

  • Fatigue is also prevalent among patients with valvular heart disease.

  • A heart murmur is another symptom to be concerned about, which is an abnormal sound in the heart.

Cardiomyopathy Symptoms

When the heart is unable to pump blood effectively through the body, then the patient may have a problem with the heart muscle. This condition is described as cardiomyopathy and may cause the following symptoms:

  • Heart palpitations.

  • Blood pressure would increase above normal levels.

  • Shortness of breath is particularly common with cardiomyopathy.

  • Lightheadedness.

  • Dizziness.

  • The patient may have a general weak feeling.

  • Fatigue may also affect the patient consistently.

  • The patient may experience chest pain.

  • Fainting is possible, especially when the condition becomes more serious.

  • There may be edema in the legs, ankles, and feet – this is generally caused by an accumulation of fluids in the lower extremities.

Other Symptoms To Be Wary Of

Apart from the symptoms that we mentioned above, there are other signs that patients should also take note of. This is especially important when considering the possibility of complications like heart attacks and heart failure. These complications can occur in the presence of various heart diseases.

With a heart attack, one of the first symptoms that the patient will experience is a tightness or pressure feeling in their chest. Some may describe this is a squeezing sensation.

At the same time, these symptoms would usually be accompanied by chest pain. The pain would not only affect the chest but will generally spread to surrounding areas as well.

Most people find that the pain experienced in their chest will start to spread toward the neck, back, arms, and jaw.

In addition to the pain and chest tightness, shortness of breath is another common symptom that would accompany the pain. There may also be a cold sweat, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, and the patient may suddenly feel dizzy. In some cases, abdominal pain may also be experienced.

Causes Of Heart Disease

The development of heart disease can be linked to a number of potential causes. In cases of congenital heart defects, the problems with the patient’s heart would have developed before birth.

In other cases, it is important to take a closer look at the specific symptoms that are experienced. This is as different causes are linked to specific heart diseases.

In a significant number of cases where a patient is diagnosed with heart disease, hypertension would be found to affect the person. High blood pressure refers to the heart pumping blood harder through the blood vessels. This ensures that blood flow can be pushed throughout the entire body, but does have implications for the arteries.

With continuous high blood pressure, blood vessels become damaged. This is a major cause of certain heart diseases and also considered a factor that contributes to heart attacks.

Diabetes is another direct cause of certain heart diseases. With diabetes, the damage is done to several parts of the body, including the blood vessels and nerves.

When the disease progresses, it may lead to problems with cellular function and also contribute to inflammation. Several studies have found that inflammation contributes to many chronic diseases.

High cholesterol is another cause of heart disease among the population. Cholesterol is a type of fatty substance that enters the bloodstream. There are different kinds of cholesterol. When total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels increase in the body, it can cause the substance to collect in the lining of blood vessels.

Combined with the inflammation, cholesterol starts to build up in the arteries and forms a type of plaque. This can cause the arteries to narrow and also lead to blockages in some cases.

A narrowing of the blood vessels can cause a reduction in the amount of oxygen that is supplied to the heart. Since the heart depends on a constant supply of oxygen, this particular complication causes damage to the heart.

The damage leads to the formation of scar tissue, which adversely affects the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood. This is where conditions like cardiomyopathy start to become a concern in the patient.

Risk Factors For Heart Disease

Apart from considering direct causes and factors that contribute to the development of heart disease, it is also crucial for patients to realize that several risk factors also play a role.

Smoking As A Risk Factor For Heart Disease

Smoking is considered the most important risk factor for heart disease. In fact, according to one study, a person who smokes has a 70% higher risk of dying from coronary heart disease compared to a person who does not smoke. Smoking causes an increase in blood pressure levels, which can eventually lead to hypertension.

Additionally, smoking has also been found to cause blood vessels to become narrow. This means the heart will continuously have to work harder to get blood through the body. It has also been found that smokers have a higher risk of having a stroke.

Obesity And Heart Disease

Another risk factor to be taken into account would be obesity. According to recent statistics released by the World Health Organization, over 1.9 billion adults worldwide are considered overweight, with about 650 million of these being obese.

Obesity has a significant adverse impact on the human body. According to one study, there is a strong link between obesity and a substantial increase in the risk of heart disease.

When there is too much excess weight in the human body, it causes additional side-effects. This includes hypertension, which, again, leads to an increased risk of blood vessel damage. The blood vessel damage would then further contribute to a risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is also important to note that obesity causes metabolic syndrome. This is a collective term that is used to describe a range of conditions. Heart disease is often included in the category of metabolic syndrome. The term is also used to describe the development of diabetes. As stated previously, diabetes does have an impact on cardiovascular health and is considered a cause of heart disease.

Physical Inactivity And Cardiovascular Health

Another critical risk factor is the fact that physical inactivity has also been found to be a contributing factor to cardiovascular problems.

The body needs to remain active to stay healthy. It is generally advised to get a minimum of 150 minutes’ worth of aerobic activity each week. This time refers to a moderate intensity level.

When the patient participates in a more vigorous level of aerobic activity, a minimum of 75 minutes per week would usually be sufficient.

Failure to remain physically active can cause several adverse effects on a person’s health.

A report by the World Health Organization states that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with all causes of mortality. This means it leads to a significant increase in the risk of diabetes mellitus, heart disease, lipid disorders, and more.

Diagnosis Of Heart Disease

Diagnosing heart disease is a procedure that may involve multiple tests. This is because several diseases are affecting the heart and cardiovascular system that may lead to similar symptoms.

The process of diagnosing heart disease starts with a physical examination by the physician. The physician will also need to ask the patient several questions about the symptoms that they experience.

It would also be important for the physician to look at the patient’s medical history. Certain pharmaceutical drugs cause side-effects like a faster heart rate.

Blood tests would be one of the first options that the physician may consider. In addition to blood tests, other diagnostic tools may also be used to gain more accurate data – and to detect specific abnormalities. These diagnostic tools and tests may include:

  • MRI scans, also known as magnetic resonance imaging scans.

  • Echocardiogram.

  • Coronary angiography.

  • Electrocardiogram, more commonly known simply as an ECG.

  • Radionuclide tests.

In some cases, the physician may also advise the patient to undergo X-ray tests.

The data collected will help the physician determine what type of heart disease the patient is suffering from. This data would then be used to develop a treatment plan that targets the symptoms and the specific condition that is diagnosed.


Several complications can develop when a patient has heart disease. The risk of suffering from complications associated with heart disease is significantly increased when the diagnosis and treatment are not implemented during an early stage.

It is important to note that complications that may occur depending on the specific heart disease that the patient has developed.

Some of the most important complications of heart disease that patients do need to be wary of include:

  • Heart attack

  • Heart failure

  • Aneurysm

  • Stroke

  • Sudden cardiac arrest

  • Peripheral artery disease

Among these, heart failure seems to be one of the most common problems faced by the general population.

With heart failure, the heart is not able to pump adequate amounts of blood throughout the body. This leads to a deprivation of both nutrients and oxygen.

Treatment Of Heart Disease

There are several potential treatment options for heart disease. A doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications:

  • Nitrates

  • Diuretics

  • Warfarin or other blood thinners

  • Antiarrhythmic drugs

  • (ACE) inhibitors

  • Beta-blockers

  • Calcium channel blockers

Potential therapies include:

  • CPR, in the case of heart attack heart

  • Bypass surgery

  • Stents

  • Pacemaker

  • Defibrillator

  • Heart transplant

  • Enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP)

Prevention: How To Lower The Risk Of Heart Disease

Patients at risk of heart disease should equip themselves with strategies that may help to reduce their likeliness of developing these conditions.

Many strategies can be adopted in order to assist in reducing the risk of heart attacks, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, strokes, hypertension, and many other types of heart diseases.

Understanding the risk factors associated with these diseases is one of the first steps to reducing the risks. If the patient finds that they have an increased risk, then taking the appropriate action will certainly have a positive effect.

Some potential lifestyle changes include:

  • Doing at least 150 minutes a week of exercise

  • Stop smoking

  • Consuming a diet low in processed sugars and increasing the amount of fiber, vegetables, and fruit

  • Lowering salt intake

  • Reducing stress

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

For example, a patient who is obese may consider adopting a low-calorie diet and exercise plan to help them lose excess weight.

It is also vital that the patient takes a closer look at their diet. Individuals who have already been diagnosed with cholesterol, for example, might want to take a closer look at how dairy affects their health. With too much dairy, there may be a significant increase in cholesterol, further increasing the risk of heart disease.

Adopting more foods that naturally reduce inflammation is a beneficial, healthy lifestyle change. Several foods have been found to reduce chronic inflammation in the body, which contributes to heart disease.

Another important factor to consider is balancing hormones. For example, men with estrogen dominance may want to learn how to balance their hormones.

A disruption in the endocrine system can be harmful to cardiovascular health and increase the risk of conditions that could contribute to heart disease.


The heart is often considered the most important organ in the body. Heart disease can lead to several adverse effects on the body. In some cases, it may also lead to fatal complications.

Recognizing the symptoms of heart disease early on can ensure a patient is diagnosed before the disease becomes life-threatening. Several treatments have been developed that can assist in the management of these diseases.


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  2. Tavani A, Gallus S, Negri E, et milk, dairy products, and coronary heart disease Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health 2002;56:471-472.
  3. Stewart J, Manmathan G, Wilkinson P. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: A review of contemporary guidance and literature. JRSM Cardiovasc Dis. 2017;6:2048004016687211. Published 2017 Jan 1. doi:10.1177/2048004016687211

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