arteriogram showing coronary arteries of healthy h
1 / 26

What's Heart Disease?

Mention heart disease, and most people picture a heart attack. But the term covers several conditions that can hurt your ticker and keep it from doing its job. These include coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure. Learn the warning signs of each and how to react.

Swipe to advance
Angiogram showing myocardial infarction
2 / 26

Clogged Arteries

A buildup of sticky plaque (fat and cholesterol) can narrow your heart's arteries, making it harder for blood to pass through. Many people don't even know there's a problem until an artery is clogged by a blood clot and they have a heart attack. But there may be warning signs of coronary artery disease, like frequent chest pain called angina.

Swipe to advance
Illustration of heart attack
3 / 26

Inside a Heart Attack

Plaque is hard on the outside and mushy on the inside. Sometimes that hard outer shell cracks. When this happens, a blood clot forms. If it completely blocks your artery, it cuts off the blood supply to part of your heart. Blood carries oxygen, and a shortage of that can quickly damage the organ and possibly kill you. The attack is sudden, and it's important to get medical help right away. 

Swipe to advance
Man with hand over heart
4 / 26

What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like?

You might have:

  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Discomfort spreading to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
  • Nausea, indigestion, or heartburn
  • Weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
  • Fast or irregular heartbeats

It's an emergency even when your symptoms are mild.

Swipe to advance
Female jogger standing on path in woods
5 / 26

Symptoms in Women

Women don't always feel chest pain. Compared to men, they're more likely to have heartburn or heart flutters, lose their appetite, cough, or feel tired or weak. Don't ignore these symptoms. The longer you wait to get treatment, the more damage can be done.

Swipe to advance
Ambulance in hospital parking lot
6 / 26

Act Fast

If you think you're having a heart attack, call 911 right away, even if you're not sure. Don't wait to see if you feel better. And don't drive yourself to the hospital. The EMS team will come to you and start work right away. A fast response can save your life.

Swipe to advance
Normal EKG contrasted with atrial fibrillation
7 / 26

Irregular Heart Beat: Arrhythmia

Your heart beats because of electrical impulses, and they can get off rhythm. Arrhythmias can make your heart race, slow down, or quiver. They're often harmless and pass quickly, but some types can affect your blood flow and take a serious toll on your body. Tell your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

Swipe to advance
Illustration of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
8 / 26

Heart Muscle Disease: Cardiomyopathy

Abnormal heart muscle, or cardiomyopathy, makes it hard to pump and carry blood to the rest of your body. Over time, health problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes can cause this serious condition, which can lead to heart failure.

Swipe to advance
Heart ultrasound showing left ventricular hypertro
9 / 26

Heart Failure

This doesn't mean your heart stops working. It means the organ can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. So over time, it gets bigger and pumps faster. This weakens the muscle and lowers the amount of blood flowing out even more, which adds to the problem. 

Most cases of heart failure are the result of coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

Swipe to advance
newborn baby in incubator
10 / 26

Congenital Heart Defect

From birth, you can have a leaky valve or a damaged wall separating your heart chambers. Sometimes, the defects aren't found until you're an adult. 

They don't all need treatment, but some require medicine or surgery. If you have one, you're more likely to have arrhythmias, heart failure, and infected valves, but there are ways to lower these chances.

Swipe to advance
Doctors using a defibrillator
11 / 26

Sudden Cardiac Death

This isn't the same as a heart attack. Sudden cardiac death happens when the heart's electrical system goes haywire, making it beat irregularly and dangerously fast. Instead of pumping out blood to your body, your chambers quiver. 

A defibrillator can help bring back a regular heart beat, but without it, the person can die within minutes. Start CPR while waiting for a defibrillator, and have someone call 911 immediately.

Swipe to advance
EKG electrode on a patient
12 / 26

Electrocardiogram (EKG)

An EKG records your heart's electrical activity. During this painless test, your doctor will stick electrodes on your skin for a few minutes. The results tell them if you have a regular heartbeat or not. It can confirm you're having a heart attack, or if you've had one in the past. Your doctor can also compare these graphs over time to track how your ticker is doing.

Swipe to advance
Man Hooked Up to Heart Monitor
13 / 26

Stress Test

This measures how well your heart works when it's pushed hard. You walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike, and the workout gets tougher. Meanwhile, your doctor watches your EKG, heart rate, and blood pressure to see if the organ gets enough blood.

Swipe to advance
Portable heart monitor
14 / 26

Holter Monitor

This portable device records the rhythm of your heart. If your doctor thinks there's a problem, they might ask you to wear the monitor for a day or two. It tracks the electrical activity nonstop (unlike an EKG, which is a snapshot in time). Your doctor will probably ask you to log your activities and symptoms, too.

Swipe to advance
Chest x-ray showing enlarged left ventricle
15 / 26

Chest X-rays

These pictures of your heart, lungs, and chest bones are made with a small amount of radiation. Doctors use them to spot signs of trouble. In this image, the bulge on the right is an enlarged left ventricle, the main pumping chamber.

Swipe to advance
Man having an echocardiography (ultrasound) test
16 / 26


This test uses sound waves to show live, moving images of your heart. From the ultrasound, your doctor can spot damage or problems with your chambers, valves, or blood flow. It helps to diagnose disease and see how well your treatments are working.

Swipe to advance
Colourised CT scan of human heart
17 / 26

Cardiac CT

Cardiac computerized tomography takes detailed X-rays of your heart and its blood vessels. A computer then stacks the images to create a 3-D picture. Doctors use it to look for buildups of plaque or calcium in your coronary arteries, as well as valve problems and other types of heart disease.

Swipe to advance
Monitor during cardiac catheterization
18 / 26

Cardiac Catheterization

In this procedure, your doctor guides a narrow tube, called a catheter, through a blood vessel in your arm or leg until it reaches your heart. Then, they inject dye into each coronary artery, which makes them easy to see in an X-ray. The picture shows any blockages and how bad they are.

Swipe to advance
Foot with swollen ankle
19 / 26

Living With Heart Disease

Most types are long-lasting. At first, symptoms can be hard to spot and may not disturb your daily life. But left alone and ignored, they get worse.

If your heart starts to fail, you might be short of breath or feel tired. Keep an eye out for swelling in your belly, ankles, feet, or legs. In many cases, long-term treatment can help keep things under control. You can fight heart failure with medication, lifestyle changes, surgery, or a transplant.

Swipe to advance
Pillbox and Pills
20 / 26


A number of prescription drugs can help you. Some lower blood pressure, heart rate, or cholesterol levels. Others control irregular rhythms or prevent clots. If you already have some damage, other medications can help your heart pump blood.

Swipe to advance
coronary angioplasty
21 / 26


This procedure opens a blocked artery and improves blood flow. Your doctor guides a thin catheter with a balloon on the end into your artery. When the balloon reaches the blockage, the doctor fills it with air. This inflates your artery and allows blood to move freely. They may also put in a small mesh tube called a stent to keep it open.

Swipe to advance
heart surgery
22 / 26

Bypass Surgery

Your doctor might suggest this operation if you have one or more arteries that are too narrow or blocked. They first remove a blood vessel from an area of your body, such as your chest, belly, legs, or arms, and then attach it to a healthy artery in your heart. Your blood is guided around the problem area, "bypassing" it.

Swipe to advance
Overweight couple on beach
23 / 26

Who Gets Heart Disease?

Men are more likely to have a heart attack than women, and at an earlier age. But heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of both sexes. People with a family history of it also have a higher risk.

Swipe to advance
Smiling senior man swimmer
24 / 26

Things You Can Control

These daily habits can lower your chances of heart disease:

  • Exercise regularly (30 minutes most days).
  • Stay at a healthy weight.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink (one drink a day for women, two a day for men).
  • Don't smoke.

If you have diabetes, it's important to manage your blood sugar levels. And if you have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, do everything you can to get them in check.

Swipe to advance
Close-up of a cigarette with ash
25 / 26

Why Smoking Hurts Your Heart

If you light up, you're two to four times more likely to get heart disease. Now is the perfect time to quit. Your risk for a heart attack starts to fall within 24 hours.

Swipe to advance
Elderly man lifting weights
26 / 26

Life With Heart Disease

Get back on track with a cardiac rehab program. Your doctor can give you a referral. Specialists will help you come up with a plan that covers exercise, nutrition, emotional support, and more. These programs can make a big difference for you.

Swipe to advance

Up Next

Next Slideshow Title

Sources | Medically Reviewed on 05/03/2019 Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 03, 2019


1)   SPL / Photo Researchers, Inc.

2)   James Cavallini / Photo Researchers, Inc.

3)   3D Clinic

4)   Stephen Smith / Riser

5)   Nikolaevich / Photonica

6)   Brand X Pictures

7)   3D4Medical

8)   David Gifford / Photo Researchers, Inc.

9)   PDSN / Phototake -- All rights reserved.

10)   ERproductions Ltd

11)   Medicimage

12)   Arno Massee / Photo Researchers, Inc.

13)   Corbis

14)   Sheila Terry / Photo Researchers, Inc.

15)   Living Art Enterprises, LLC and SPL / Photo Researchers, Inc.

16)   Doug Martin / Photo Researchers, Inc

17)   Oxford Scientific

18)   Anthony Gray

19)   Jesús Tarruella / age fotostock

20)   Jeffrey Coolidge / Iconica

21)   ISM / Phototake -- All rights reserved.

22)   Stockbyte

23)   Getty Images

24)   Brand X Pictures

25)   Photosindia

26)   Jose Luis Pelaez/ Iconica



American Heart Association.

APS Foundation of America.


Cleveland Clinic.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

The Texas Heart Institute.

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on May 03, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.