Heart Disease

Heart Disease

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease refers to a wide range of cardiovascular conditions. It the leading cause of death in the US, and the second leading cause of death in Canada.

Types of Heart Disease

Depending on the type of heart disease, the symptoms, causes, treatments, and areas of the cardiovascular system that’s affected will differ.

Common heart diseases include:

  • Heart infection
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
  • Blood vessel disease, such as coronary heart disease (CAD)
  • Congenital heart defects (heart defects you’re born with)
  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Hardening or weakening of heart (cardiomyopathy)


The exact symptoms depend on type of heart disease.

Heart infection

Heart infection can refer to conditions such as endocarditis or myocarditis, which involve inflammation of areas in the heart.

Common symptoms for heart infection include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Coughing
  • Chest congestion (mucus)
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Skin rash

Abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)

Symptoms may depend on the type of arrhythmia that’s present, like if the heart is beating too fast, or too slow.

Common symptoms of heart arrhythmia include:

  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Racing or “fluttering” heartbeats
  • Slow pulse
  • Fainting spells
  • Chest pain or discomfort

Blood vessel disease, such as coronary heart disease (CAD)

CAD is when plaque builds up in the arteries, impeding the flow of blood to the heart and lungs.

Common symptoms of CAD include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweats
  • Feeling full, or indigestion
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms or other areas of the upper body

Congenital heart defects (heart defects you’re born with)

Congenital heart defects/disease are conditions that develop while a baby, and can be diagnosed before, or shortly, after birth, but are sometimes missed until adulthood.

Common symptoms of congenital heart defects include:

  • Blue tint to skin (cyanosis)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Problems exercising

Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)

Atherosclerosis, commonly called “hardening of the arteries”, is when fat, cholesterol, and plaque buildup on the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow.

Common symptoms of atherosclerosis include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue or confusion
  • Weakness in legs
  • Shortness of breath

Hardening or weakening of heart (cardiomyopathy)

Cardiomyopathy refers to heart diseases that affect the muscle of the heart, causing them to weaken or become rigid and hard.

Common symptoms of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Swelling legs, ankles, or feet


Heart disease refers to a range of heart conditions, each with their own symptoms and causes. Some types are due to diet, like the hardening of the arteries due to plaque buildup, while others are caused by infections or even genetic reasons.

Risk Factors

The risk factors depend on the type of heart disease, but certain lifestyle and physical situations can make you more at risk to developing heart disease.

Common risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol diets
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Ethnicity


Testing for heart disease can be either invasive or non-invasive, and will depend on the type of heart disease, and the results of prior testing. If non-invasive testing doesn’t provide a clear diagnosis, invasive testing may be needed.

Non-invasive resting may include CT scans, ultrasounds, or other testing to monitor your heart’s activity.

Invasive tests include inserting catheters or electrodes to perform more detailed testing on your heart and blood vessels.


Treatment depends entirely on the type of heart disease, but usually includes medications, lifestyle changes, surgery, or a combination of the three.


Some things, like family history, are outside our control. However, the things that we can control include healthy lifestyle choices like improving diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and managing stress effectively.

When to See a Medical Doctor

Only a doctor can properly asses and diagnose heart conditions. If you’ve experienced any persistent, common symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, etc., see a doctor immediately.

If you have no symptoms, but have a family history of heart disease, speak to a doctor about ways to remain healthy, and prevent possible heart disease from forming.

Speaking to a medical professional will help diagnose you, make sure that more serious issues aren’t the reason for symptoms, and
begin treatment options tailor-suited for getting your life back on track.