Health Library: Heart Disease

Heart disease has become the leading cause of death in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2006, 631,636 people died of heart disease. These statistics reveal that one in every four people in the United States died from heart disease that year. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease. The CDC also says each year 785,000 Americans suffer from their first heart attack. Most types of heart disease are brought on by poor lifestyle habits. The standard American diet has become laden with fat, salt and other processed foods that drastically increase the chances of heart disease. Age can also be a factor, but people are starting to develop heart disease at younger ages due to poor diet and obesity.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a term that describes a variety of diseases impacting the heart. Several conditions fall under the description of “heart disease.” These conditions can be caused by lifestyle, but some people are born with congenital conditions such as heart defects, heart rhythm problems, and coronary artery disease.

Heart disease is also brought on by other conditions such as infections, tumors, high blood pressure, endocarditis and pulmonary stenosis. In rare cases, heart disease is caused by viral infections. Without early treatment, these conditions can lead to heart disease by destroying blood vessels, and weakening heart muscles. Some conditions may cause cardiovascular disease by disrupting heart rhythm, reducing oxygen to the heart, and interfering with the heart’s ability to pump blood and oxygen through the body. These could all lead to a heart attack, stroke or in the most extreme cases, need for a heart transplant.

The University of Maryland Medical Center: Heart Disease-Overview –Medical terms, definitions and general information about heart disease.

The Mayo Clinic: Heart Disease – Information about heart disease and some of the conditions that lead to a heart attack.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention –Information about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and how to prevent heart disease.

MedlinePlus: Heart Failure – Information about heart failure brought on by heart disease.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What is Coronary Heart Disease – Information about the causes of coronary heart disease.

American Heart Association: What is the Cardiovascular Disease? – Information about symptoms of a heart attack and other causes of cardiovascular disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The symptoms of heart disease vary greatly, depending on the actual cause of the disease. Only a doctor can properly diagnose heart conditions, and not all heart issues will lead to heart disease. Sometimes a person may not know they have heart disease until after they suffer from a stroke or heart attack. Symptoms are not always present, so it’s vital to take preventative measures and get checkups regularly. A person experiencing any of the following symptoms should consult a doctor, as these can all be symptoms of heart disease: severe nausea and vomiting, cold sweats, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness. In addition, people with coronary artery disease may also have a rapid or irregular pulse or have difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath.

The University of Southern California: A Patient’s Guide to Heart Surgery –Descriptions of symptoms associated with coronary artery disease.

The University of Minnesota: Women and Heart Disease-Know the Symptoms, Decrease your Risk – An article about how women are affected by heart disease and what the risk factors are.

Rush University Medical Center: Heart Disease and Women

Cedars Sinai: Heart Failure –Information about the symptoms of heart failure.

Women’s Health: Heart Disease Fact Sheet –A list of common facts about heart disease.

American Diabetes Association: Heart Disease – Information about the link between diabetes and heart disease.


Properly managing heart disease is vital. Treatment options vary, depending on the severity of the disease. People with severe heart disease may need an operation to rebuild or unclog their arteries. In many cases medication to thin the blood can correct the problem. Controlling high blood pressure and cholesterol with medication or making lifestyle changes is essential. A person with heart disease will be advised to quit smoking as well as to stop drinking alcohol. In some severe cases the only treatment is a heart transplant.

Harvard Health Publications: Medication vs. stents for heart disease treatment – Information about different types of treatment for heart disease.

Cleveland Clinic: Heart and Vascular Health and Prevention –How to prevent heart disease with antioxidants such as vitamin E.

Minnesota Department of Health – How to prevent heart disease and stroke.

The New York Times – General information about coronary heart disease and the risks.

Southwestern Medical Center – Treatment options for heart disease.

Prevention/Risk FactorsPrevention/Risk Factors

Smoking, high body mass index, poor diet, high cholesterol, stress and high blood pressure are all risk factors that contribute an increased chance of heart disease. A person with diabetes or a sedentary lifestyle is also at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease. People over the age of 50 are at a higher risk, depending on their lifestyle and genetics. Most younger people are not at risk unless they have high blood pressure or a congenital heart condition. Yet, more and more people are developing heart disease at younger ages. Young adults with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or weight problems are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

In the past, people thought heart disease was a man’s disease, but women are just as likely to develop coronary artery disease. Hormones change after menopause, which makes older women more vulnerable to the disease. Many women do not know they have heart disease until it’s too late. Women can die quickly from a heart attack because they often think the symptoms are related to something else. While a sharp pain in the chest in the most commonly associated symptom of a heart attack, women sometimes will experience pain in the shoulder, which can lead to a misdiagnosis of what is happening.

In most cases, heart disease can be prevented by making the right diet and lifestyle choices early in life. A healthy diet is the first step to prevent heart disease, and consists of raw fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and beans. Healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids may prevent heart disease by protecting the heart from inflammation. These good fats are found in salmon, cod liver oil, and nuts. Sprinkle a salad with sunflower seeds, and olive oil to add more healthy fat to your diet. A person can also lower their risk of heart disease by getting enough exercise, reducing stress and maintaining healthy blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight can also have a big impact on heart health.

Help Guide: Heart Healthy Diet Tips –Details about how to prevent heart disease with a healthy diet.

Oregon Health Authority: Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention – Information about how to prevent heart disease and stroke.

The University of California: Heart Disease Prevention Program –Information about heart disease prevention programs.

Health Magazine: Preventing Heart Disease – Information about how to lower your risk of heart disease with weight management and diet.

World Health Organization: Cardiovascular Disease –Global information about heart disease prevention and control.

United States Department of Veterans Affairs – How to prevent heart disease with an aspirin regimen.