Close this search box.

Understanding Heart Disease

Learn About the Various Types of Heart Disease

Most often, people think of heart disease as the narrowing of the arteries leading to their heart. This however, is just one type of heart disease. Also described as cardiovascular disease, heart disease includes a number of conditions affecting the structures or function of the heart.

By Jenni Frankenberg Veal


Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary heart disease is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries that leads to the blockage of the vessels that supply blood to the heart. Symptoms include discomfort, heaviness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness, squeezing or pain in the chest, left shoulder, arms, neck, back or jaw; shortness of breath; heart palpitations or rapid/irregular heartbeats; sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medications, procedures such as balloon angioplasty (PTCA), stent placement and coronary artery bypass surgery. New treatments include angiogenesis and Enhanced External Counterpulsation (EECP).

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

Heart attacks occur when blood flow to a section of the heart muscle becomes blocked, causing lack of oxygen and damage to the heart. Symptoms include discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone; discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat or arm; fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn); sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness; extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath; rapid or irregular heartbeats. Treatments include immediate drug therapy to prevent blood clotting and dissolve blood clots in the heart’s arteries; procedures such as angioplasty, stents or bypass surgery may be performed; medications may be used; and lifestyle changes may be necessary.

Abnormal Heart Rhythm (Arrhythmia)

An irregular heartbeat is called an arrhythmia or dysrhythmia. Symptoms include heart palpitations, dizziness or light-headedness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest discomfort weakness or fatigue.Treatments include lifestyle changes, electrical cardioversion, devices such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (icd) or pacemaker, or procedures such as catheter ablation or heart surgery.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that causes the upper part (atria) of the heart to quiver or fibrillate. Symptoms include dizziness or light-headedness, shortness of breath, weakness or fatigue, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeats, chest discomfort, or fainting. Treatments include medication or electrical cardioversion; rhythm-control (antiarrhythmics) or rate-control medicine and/or anticoagulant medicine or ablation.

Heart Valve Disease

Heart valve disease occurs when the heart valves do not work the way they should. Symptoms include shortness of breath and/or difficulty catching your breath; weakness or dizziness; discomfort in your chest; heart palpitations; swelling of ankles, feet or abdomen; or rapid weight gain (two or three pounds in one day). Treatments include medication and/or procedures such as heart valve repair, replacement and percutaneous balloon valvotomy.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. The leading causes of heart failure are diseases that damage the heart. Some symptoms include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, fatigue, swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and a cough that produces a white mucus. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines and surgical procedures such as bypass surgery, LVAD, heart valve surgery and heart transplant.

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is a type of defect or malformation in one or more structures of the heart or blood vessels that occurs before birth. Congenital heart disease may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms. For adults, symptoms may include shortness of breath, limited ability to exercise, and symptoms of heart failure. Some mild defects do not require treatment. Medications, surgery or other procedures may be used.

Congenital Heart Disease in Children

There are several congenital heart defects that are detected and treated early in infancy. Most of them involve abnormal connections among the veins, arteries of the heart, and arteries. Symptoms include cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, fingernails and lips), fast breathing, and poor feeding, poor weight gain, recurrent lung infections, or an inability to exercise. Treatments include surgery, interventional procedures and medication.

Heart Muscle Disease (Cardiomyopathy)

Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thickened or stiffened. Some people who have cardiomyopathy do not have symptoms. Presentation of symptoms include shortness of breath or trouble breathing, especially with physical exertion; fatigue; swelling of the lower extremities; dizziness, light-headedness, fainting, arrhythmias; chest pain, especially after physical exertion or heavy meals, and heart murmurs. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medicines and surgery, and heart transplant; implanted devices; and a nonsurgical procedure called alcohol ablation.


Pericarditis is a condition in which the sac around the heart, called the pericardium, is inflamed. Symptoms include sharp, stabbing chest pain often felt in the middle or left side of the chest or in one or both shoulders; dull ache or pressure in the chest, fever, weakness, coughing and trouble breathing, as well as heart palpitations. Treatments include medicines and occasionally procedures or surgery.

See Related Articles:

number pattern on gradient
6 Numbers You Should Know for Your Health

Heart Attack Survivor Story: Susan Dietz

Get access to the next issue before it hits the stands!