Some types of heart disease, closely linked to diet and lifestyle choices, are preventable; others are due to heredity, infections, or other uncontrollable factors.
One out of every three Americans will ultimately die of heart disease -- the daily toll is approximately 2,500 people. Fortunately, the death rate is declining steadily (by about 40% since 1960) because of improved medical care and widespread public education about risk factors.
The following is a list of the most common types of heart disease:
Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease, the most common of all heart problems, is characterized by blockages in the coronary arteries -- the arteries that supply blood to the heart -- that result in a reduction in blood flow to the heart muscle, depriving it of vital oxygen. Usually, the disease stems from atherosclerosis, a condition sometimes called hardening of the arteries.
Coronary heart disease can result in painful episodes of angina (chest pain) or a heart attack or, in the worst case, sudden death. Coronary artery disease can also cause heart failure if there has been a heart attack that damaged the heart muscle.
There are many things that can put a person at higher risk of developing coronary disease:
Family history of coronary heart disease
Age -- For both men and women, the likelihood of heart disease increases significantly after the age of 65. The risk rises sharply in women after menopause.
Abnormal cholesterol levels -- high blood levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol or low levels of HDL "good" cholesterol
Coronary artery disease does not discriminate by gender. Although men tend to develop coronary heart disease at an earlier age than women, women are just as likely to die from it.
Arrhythmias are disturbances in the heart's normal beating pattern. The irregularities occur in many forms, each with its own potential causes and treatments. Serious arrhythmias are a frequent consequence of other heart ailments, but may also occur independently.
The term heart failure does not mean that the heart has "failed" or stopped working. Rather, it means that the heart does not pump blood as well as it should to meet the body's needs. Heart failure is usually caused by coronary artery disease, but it can also be caused by thyroid disease, high blood pressure, or heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy), among other conditions.
Heart Valve Disease
The heart has four valves (the pulmonary, mitral, tricuspid, and aortic) that open and close to direct blood flow between the heart's four chambers, the lungs, and connected blood vessels. A defective valve may fail either to open properly, obstructing blood flow (stenosis or obstruction), or to close properly, allowing blood leakage. Congenital heart disease and various infections, including rheumatic fever, are among the causes of valve disorders.