What causes heart disease?

The heart is a muscle that requires a steady supply of oxygen in order to pump blood effectively through the body. Oxygen is supplied to the heart by blood that flows through the coronary arteries. Some types of heart disease damage or block the coronary arteries and the flow of oxygen to the heart. Other forms of heart disease damage or impair the functioning of the heart and blood vessels. These disorders include:

  • Abnormal electrical conduction in the heart causing cardiac arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms. These include ventricular tachycardia, heart blocks, ventricular fibrillation, asystole, supraventricular tachycardia, and bradycardia.

  • Atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque on the walls of the coronary arteries. Atherosclerosis narrows the coronary arteries and results in angina. It can also lead to the formation of a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the heart (heart attack).

  • Birth defects, also called congenital heart or blood vessel defects. These include atrial septal defect, coarctation of the aorta, and atrioventricular septal defect.

  • Heart damage, such as heart failure or cardiomyopathy, that weakens the pumping action of the heart

  • Heart valve abnormalities, which are also called heart valve disorders. Heart valve disorders include mitral valve insufficiency, mitral valve prolapse, mitral valve stenosis, tricuspid valve insufficiency, and tricuspid valve stenosis.

  • Infection and inflammation caused by myocarditis or pericarditis

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of having heart disease. These risk factors include:

  • African American, Hispanic American, or Native American ancestry

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Exposure of a baby to certain maternal diseases during pregnancy

  • Exposure of a baby to certain toxins during pregnancy

  • Family history of heart disease

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

  • History of atherosclerosis

  • History of diabetes

  • Long-term stress

  • Male gender and postmenopausal females aged 45 years and older

  • Obesity and sedentary lifestyle

  • Smoking

  • Having high levels of certain substances in the body, which can be seen on blood tests, can also increase the risk for heart disease. These include:

  • High cholesterol, which can lead to atherosclerosis

  • High C-reactive protein (CRP) level, which increases atherosclerosis

  • High homocysteine level, which is associated with heart disease; however, no causal link has been established

Reducing your risk of heart disease

Not all people who are at risk for heart disease will develop heart disease, and not all people who develop heart disease have risk factors. You can reduce your risk of some forms of heart disease by:

  • Eating a diet that is low in saturated fat and high in fiber, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Not drinking alcohol or limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men

  • Not smoking or quitting smoking

  • Participating in a regular exercise program

  • Reducing excessive stress

  • Seeking regular medical care and following your treatment plan for such conditions as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes

INTRODUCTION

What is heart disease?

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, is a general name for a wide variety of diseases, disorders and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source: CDC).... Read more about heart diseaseintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Symptoms of heart disease can differ depending on the type and severity of heart disease and individual factors. One well-known symptom of heart disease is chest pain, but not all chest pain is caused by heart disease.... Read more about heart diseasesymptoms

TREATMENTS

How is heart disease treated?

Some heart diseases that are diagnosed early can be successfully treated before the development of permanent heart damage and complications, such as heart failure and cardiac arrest. Heart disease treatment plans use a multifaceted approach and are individualized to the type and severity of your heart disease, risk factors, lifestyle, medical history, and other diseases and conditions you have.... Read more about heart diseasetreatments

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert MD Last Annual Review Date: Jan 13, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Heart, Blood and Circulation