There are many diseases and conditions that affect the heart. As a group, heart disease is the leading cause of death
the world over. In the United States, it is the most common cause of death for both men and women. According to the
CDC, 1 in every 4 deaths is due to a heart condition. The most frequent type is coronary heart
disease but there are many other types as well.
We know that the heart has valves, muscular walls, and vessels supplying it with oxygen and nutrition called coronary
arteries. Any one of these structures can be afflicted by disease. The heart also has an electrical system that can
become dysfunctional, giving rise to rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias). Some heart conditions are present at birth
and are known as congenital defects. By considering which structure they are affecting, we can categorize most of the
heart diseases and conditions into the following types:
- Coronary heart disease
- Valvular heart disease
- Heart muscle disease
- Congenital defects
Let’s look into these in more detail, and also list some pertinent sources of information on the subject.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary arteries become thicker and narrower by a process known as atherosclerosis. This can reduce
the heart’s blood supply. When oxygen demands are not met, ischemia will occur. Ischemia manifests as
pain in the chest or angina. If an artery gets completely occluded with a clot, cardiac muscle will
die. This is called infarction, commonly known as a heart attack.
What is coronary heart disease? — NHLBI, NIH: This link provides an overview and outlook of coronary heart disease. There is an illustration that shows the
narrowing of a coronary vessel.
Coronary artery disease: Causes, symptoms, treatments: This link discusses coronary artery disease in detail including how it develops and how it is diagnosed and
Angina: Find out treatment information — MedicineNet: If you are looking for a comprehensive review of angina, do check this link. What is angina, what causes it, and
clinical aspects of its management are all presented in an easy-to-understand manner.
Angina definition — Diseases and conditions — Mayo Clinic: Clicking this link will take you to Mayo Clinic’s webpage on the definition, causes, tests and diagnosis, and
treatment of angina.
Heart attack: Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more: This is where you will find information on what happens during a heart attack and what should be done about it.
Rhythm disturbances can range from irregularities of the heart rate such as bradycardia if too slow
and tachycardia if too fast, irregular beats, to completely berserk rhythms such as
flutter and fibrillation. Clinically, the spectrum extends from some arrhythmias
that are fairly benign and can just be overlooked to those that are life-threatening and need urgent medical
attention. Management strategies include drugs, defibrillators and pacemakers.
Arrhythmias: Readers can click on this link
to discover information about arrhythmias including symptoms and an explanation on how the heart beats. Readers will
also learn what an ECG is and what it means.
University of Maryland Medical Center — Arrhythmias: This link takes readers to the University of Maryland arrhythmia page that answers the question of what
arrhythmias are. Readers may click on links to go directly to information on types, tests and treatments.
Tachycardia : Click this link to open the webpage
for tachycardia. The page is the definition page for the disorder. The reader will have the option to click on
specific links to information on the Mayo Clinic website about symptoms, causes, risk factors and more.
Valvular heart disease
Valves maintain unidirectional blood flow in the heart and when something goes wrong with them, different problems can
arise. In stenosis, a valve is too stiff and narrow. It will not open wide enough causing obstruction
to blood flow. During regurgitation, a valve is leaky and allows backflow of blood. Another condition
is where a loose, weak valve will prolapse into the next chamber.
Rheumatic fever, an illness that may occur after throat infections, has a propensity to damage heart valves. Valvular
heart disease is the result of rheumatic fever in so many cases, a distinct clinical entity
rheumatic heart disease (RHD) deals specifically with the issue.
Valvular heart disease — Johns Hopkins Medicine: This link opens the valvular heart disease page on the John Hopkins Medicine website. The page is an overview of
the topic covering the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of valvular heart disease.
Heart and blood conditions — Rheumatic heart disease: This link opens to the website for Seattle Children's Hospital and information about rheumatic heart disease and
rheumatic fever. Children ages 5 to 15 years are in the age group that is at the greatest risk of developing
rheumatic fever. Rheumatic heart disease is a late complication of rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic heart disease: Click this page to read facts about this heart condition. In addition to the facts, readers are also given
information on its treatment.
Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease: This link opens to the website for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. On this particular page, readers are
given information on both rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, with more details about rheumatic fever.
Heart muscle disease
The clinical term used for a disease that affects heart muscle is cardiomyopathy. An enlarged heart
with weak walls is dilated cardiomyopathy. When the walls are abnormally thick, it’s
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (a cause of sudden death in athletes). These are the two chief forms of
heart muscle disease. Cardiomyopathies can be the result of a variety of causes such as ischemia, hypertension,
infections, toxins, and certain drugs. They could also be genetic in origin. In cases where no specific cause can be
ascertained, the cardiomyopathy is termed idiopathic.
What is cardiomyopathy? — NHLBI, NIH: This
page gives a brief overview of cardiomyopathy. It contains information in the form of links to the causes, symptoms,
diagnosis, and treatment of the disease.
Cardiomyopathy causes — Diseases and conditions — Mayo
Clinic: This link will lead you to the causes and types of cardiomyopathy described on the Mayo Clinic website. You
will also find content covering most of the clinical aspects of the subject.
As regards birth defects, abnormalities involving the heart are very common. Causes of congenital heart malformations
can be genetic or environmental. An example of the former is Down’s syndrome which
often involves heart defects. The latter include some maternal illnesses and infections during pregnancy, drug abuse,
alcoholism, smoking, and certain medications. However, in many cases, there is no apparent cause. Congenital defects
can manifest as abnormal heart chambers or valves, or ‘holes’ in the heart. While some children may not require any
treatment at all or just conservative management, others will require surgical intervention.
Five facts about congenital heart defects: This is
an article on the CDC website. The page reviews congenital heart disease facts including life expectancy and how the
problem can be prevented.
Congenital heart defects — Parent information: This link takes readers to a PDF brochure about the disease. The brochure explains the causes, diagnosis and
different types of congenital heart defects. Available treatment options are also reviewed.
KidsHealth — Congenital heart defects:
This is an article that appears on the KidsHealth website. It is directed toward parents and describes common
congenital heart defects, their signs and symptoms, and how they are diagnosed.
MedlinePlus — Congenital heart defects: Click on this link for a very brief overview of congenital heart defects. Signs of severe defects in newborns are
listed and many further links to additional information are provided.
See also our page on heart disease in women for further discussion of
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