Learn About Cardiovascular Diseases

Understanding Your Heart Problem Can Be the First Step to Improving Your Health

Stethoscope on data sheet

Arrhythmia

Each heartbeat is controlled by electrical impulses traveling through the heart. These electrical impulses normally occur in regular intervals. When something goes wrong with the heart’s electrical system, the heart does not beat regularly. The irregular beating results in a rhythm disorder, or arrhythmia.

Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is a progressive disease of the heart muscle. The heart is abnormally enlarged, thickened and/or stiffened. As a result, the heart muscle's ability to pump blood is weakened, often causing heart failure and the backup of blood into the lungs or rest of the body.

Congestive Heart Failure

This occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood. The most common causes are:

  • Damage from past heart attack
  • High blood pressure
  • Narrowed heart arteries

Because the heart is not working efficiently, outflowing arterial blood slows, returning blood in the veins backs up causing congestion and fluid build-up, most often in legs and ankles. People with congestive heart failure become short of breath and tire easily.

Coronary Artery Disease

When a substance called plaque builds up inside arteries that feed blood to the heart, it causes a condition called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Accumulations of plaque narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow. Besides starving the heart of oxygen-rich blood, coronary artery disease can cause blood clots of form in arteries. This can result in heart failure or heart attack.

Hyperlipidemia

Hyperlipidemia is an elevation of lipids in the bloodstream. This includes many types of lipids, such as cholesterol, cholesterol esters (compounds), phospholipids and triglycerides. People usually develop hyperlipidemia for two reasons: lifestyle habits or treatable medical conditions.

Hypertension

Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Risk factors include:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Peripheral Arterial Disease

This disease can occur when the arteries that carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the legs become narrowed or blocked by plaque. Besides the aging process, these factors contribute to peripheral artery disease:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Smoking
  • Too much homocysteine (an amino acid)
  • Weight - 30 percent are more above ideal weight

Valvular Disease

Also known as heart valve disease, this occurs when heart valves don't work the way they should. According to the American Heart Association, about 5 million Americans are diagnosed with heart valve disease each year.