What is Heart Disease?

Updated: Feb 18

Heart disease remains the number one killer worldwide for both men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States recorded close to three million (2,813,503) registered deaths in 2017. Out of this number, almost six hundred and fifty thousand (647,457) are attributed to heart disease, making up 23.5% of total deaths in the United States. This translates to nearly 1 in every four deaths!! That's scary!!

Heart Disease is generally used to describe different conditions, many of which are related to build up of plaque in the walls of the arteries, resulting in narrowing of the walls. When arteries become narrower, it becomes difficult for oxygen-rich blood to flow to the heart, causing chest pain or angina. Plaque build up can lead to blood clots which could block blood flow to the heart resulting in a heart attack.

Types of Heart Disease

There are many types of diseases that affect different parts of the heart. Below are some of the most common types of heart disease.


Arrhythmia is defined as an irregular heart beat. It is very common, with about 3 million cases diagnosed in the United States every year. Arrhythmias occur as a result of malfunction of the electrical impulses in the heart which causes the heart to lose its regular rhythm. They include:

  • Bradycardia - the heart beats too slowly

  • Tachycardia - the heart beats too fast

  • Atrial fibrillation - irregular contraction of the upper chambers of the heart

  • Ventricular fibrillation - irregular contraction of the lower chambers of the heart

  • Premature contractions - early heart beats

Arrhythmias can be fatal if not properly diagnosed, monitored and managed by a qualified medical practitioner.

Explore interactive demonstration of arrhythmias

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary artery disease refers to the disease of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle. Plaque in the coronary arteries may temporarily reduce blood supply to the heart muscle (Ischemia). Sudden rupture of a plaque could lead to formation of a blood clot which prevents blood flow to the heart muscle supplied by the blocked blood vessel and causing a heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI).

Heart Failure

Heart failure is often referred to as congestive heart failure (CHF). This occurs when the heart is no longer able to pump sufficient amount of blood through the body. In patients with CHF, the heart muscle loses the ability to efficiently pump blood to the body, often marked by low ejection fraction obtained via myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI) or MUGA scan.


Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle. There are different causes of cardiomyopathy. For the most part, it results in the heart muscle becoming enlarged, rigid or thick. In some cases, the affected heart muscle could form scar tissue. As the disease worsens, the heart muscle becomes weaker, losing elasticity and the ability to efficiently supply blood throughout the body.

Common symptoms of heart disease include chest pain (angina), shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Risks of heart disease include obesity, diabetes, family history and sedentary life style. Diagnosis and treatment of heart disease depends on the symptoms and other underlying conditions of the patient and should be managed by a cardiologist.

For more information on heart diseases, visit American Heart Association's interactive cardiovascular library.