Updated December 7, 2023. Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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The most common type of heart disease that affects American adults is coronary heart disease, also called coronary artery disease. When people talk about heart disease, they are most likely referring to coronary heart disease.
But heart disease (or cardiovascular disease) is an umbrella term that includes other conditions that can harm your heart, and being aware of the different types of heart disease can help you better understand how to keep your heart safe and healthy. Continue reading to learn more about 8 different types of heart disease—from heart valve disease to heart arrhythmia and more.
Take the at-home Heart Health Test to measure indicators of cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation—all of which play key roles in heart disease risk.
A heart arrhythmia is an abnormal heartbeat. The heart can beat too slow, too fast, or with an irregular rhythm.
A heartbeat that is irregular or abnormal affects how well the heart can pump blood. The condition can be caused by congenital heart defects, smoking, a history of heart attack, or certain medications. Symptoms include a fast or slow heartbeat, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, a name used interchangeably with coronary heart disease and ischemic heart disease to describe the same heart condition.
What causes this heart disease? Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, a narrowing and hardening of the arteries due to a buildup of plaque. The heart’s blood flow becomes restricted through narrowed arteries, preventing the heart muscle from properly delivering oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. High levels of LDL cholesterol (which you can check with a cholesterol test) can make the buildup of plaque more likely.
Restricted blood flow to the heart resulting from narrowed arteries is associated with an increased risk of blood clots that can lead to a heart attack.
A very common symptom of coronary artery disease is chest pain that feels like a squeezing sensation, known as angina. However, this heart condition may not cause any symptoms for a long time before a heart attack occurs, so regular monitoring of your heart health is important for identifying possible warning signs of heart disease.
Take the at-home Heart Health Test to measure indicators of cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation—all of which can affect your risk for coronary artery disease.
There are four valves of the heart that work together to pump blood to all areas of the body. Each valve is covered by flaps of tissue that open and close to direct the blood flow through the different chambers of the heart. Changes in the shape or flexibility of the heart valves can prevent the valves from opening and closing properly.
When the flap of the valve protrudes back into the heart chamber after a heartbeat, the condition is called a “prolapse.” “Regurgitation” is when blood leaks back into the heart chambers instead of into the arteries due to improper closing of the valve.
Heart valve diseases can be caused by other heart conditions that progress over time; for example, congenital structural defects affecting the aortic valves can cause this heart condition. But often the cause of a heart valve disease is not completely known.
Possible symptoms include a heart murmur, fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs, feet, and abdomen. Heart valve disease can eventually cause heart failure over time.
In rheumatic heart disease, the heart valves are irreversibly damaged by rheumatic fever, a condition that causes inflammation in the heart, brain, joints, and skin. Rheumatic fever is triggered by bacterial infections that cause strep throat and scarlet fever. The incidence of rheumatic fever is relatively rare in the United States due to the availability of antibiotics. Rheumatic fever mostly occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15. Prompt treatment of strep throat and infections caused by streptococcal bacteria can prevent rheumatic fever from occurring.
In rheumatic heart disease, the heart valves become narrow, which can cause leaking. It may take many years to progress to this stage, and a history of rheumatic fever is key in diagnosing this condition. Shortness of breath, chest pain, and swelling are common symptoms of rheumatic heart disease.
Ultimately, untreated rheumatic heart disease can lead to heart failure or bacterial endocarditis. Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining.
Congestive heart failure (or just heart failure) refers to the heart muscle’s inability to pump blood efficiently to supply the body with oxygen. Congestive heart failure is not the same as cardiac arrest, or the sudden cessation of heart function. This heart condition is more common in people above the age of 65.
Coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are possible contributing factors for congestive heart failure. Symptoms that indicate possible heart failure include chest pain; shortness of breath; buildup of fluid in the legs, ankles, and feet; and a persistent cough.
Congestive heart failure can also be caused by structural defects in the heart that occur at birth, or congenital heart disease.
The most common types of birth defects are congenital heart defects that affect the structure of the heart valves, heart walls, and arteries or veins present near the heart. A family history of congenital heart disease plays a key role in determining whether a child will be born with a congenital heart defect.
Not all congenital heart defects cause symptoms or need treatment. However, some structural defects require treatment with medication, heart surgery, or a heart transplant.
An example of a congenital structural defect is an atrial septal defect, a hole in the wall that separates two different heart chambers. Small defects may go undetected without causing any problems, but larger holes can eventually damage the lungs and heart. These larger defects must be corrected through heart surgery in the first few years of childhood.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is another example of a congenital heart defect. It is a rare genetic disease in which the heart muscle is unusually thick, making it difficult for the heart to properly pump blood. Most people with this heart condition have no signs of heart disease, so the condition often goes undiagnosed. However, for some people it can cause shortness of breath and requires serious medical attention.
Like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, other heart diseases can also affect the heart muscle due to reasons other than congenital defects.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the muscle of the left ventricle, the main pumping chamber of the heart, becomes stretched and thin, causing it to significantly weaken. This affects the ability of the heart to pump blood properly.
Dilated cardiomyopathy can affect any gender at any age, but it is most common in men between the ages of 20 to 50. Symptoms are not present in many people with this condition, but it can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and an irregular heartbeat in many people who require treatment.
The condition is caused by factors that weaken the heart, such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Myocardial infarction is another name for a heart attack. A heart attack happens when the heart’s blood supply from a coronary artery that surrounds the heart becomes suddenly blocked by a clot. This permanently damages the heart muscle, and it’s why you are more vulnerable to other cardiac diseases if you have had a heart attack before.
The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease. Plaque buildup and narrowed arteries caused by high cholesterol—as well as high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, and obesity—increase your risk for myocardial infarction. Symptoms in men and women often start with chest pain, but women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, jaw pain, and back pain.
Seek emergency medical treatment immediately by calling 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is experiencing heart attack warning signs.
Monitoring your heart health is important to keep track of whether you are at risk of developing heart disease. You can prevent or lower your risk for many of these heart conditions through lifestyle changes like exercising more, reducing saturated fat in your diet that will lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, and taking medication to control other conditions such as diabetes and obesity.
An at-home Heart Health Test can help you see whether you are currently at risk for heart disease. The test lets you get a better understanding of possible heart disease risk factors by measuring indicators of blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and inflammation.
Taking the right steps towards having a healthy heart can make a vital difference in your overall health and well-being. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are at risk for heart disease.
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3. Heart valve disease. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-valve-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20353727. Accessed December 14, 2020.
4. Rheumatic fever. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatic-fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20354588. Accessed December 14, 2020.
5. Heart failure. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-failure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373142. Accessed December 14, 2020.
6. Congenital heart defects in children. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/congenital-heart-defects-children/symptoms-causes/syc-20350074. Accessed December 14, 2020.
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