Heart Disease Overview

Heart disease is a broad term that encompasses several heart and cardiovascular diseases or conditions. These can include coronary artery disease, heart failure, arrhythmias, heart attacks, congenital heart disease, heart valve disease, cardiomyopathy, and cardiac arrest. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., so it’s important to be aware of these diseases and their risk factors.

First, let’s review how the heart works.


The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body’s cardiovascular system, made up of veins and arteries. The heart is made up of four chambers: the right atrium, the right ventricle, the left atrium, and the left ventricle. (Refer to the diagram above.)

The right atrium receives blood from the veins and pumps it to the right ventricle. From there, the right ventricle pumps the blood to the lungs, where it is loaded with oxygen. Then, the left atrium receives the oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it to the left ventricle. Finally, the left ventricle pumps the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. Coronary arteries provide oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle and are found along the surface of the heart.

When any part of the heart’s functionality isn’t working properly, a serious heart disease or condition can result. The chart below describes what happens in each heart-related illness.


The Risk Factors

While there are some risk factors of heart disease that are uncontrollable – for instance, it is more common among males, the older population, or those with a family history of heart disease – there are ways you can lower your risk.

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking doubles your risk for heart attack.
  • Pay attention to your cholesterol levels. The higher your cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease.
  • Control high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most common risk factor for heart disease in the U.S.
  • Control diabetes. If you have it, diabetes can lead to heart damage if not properly controlled.
  • Eat well. Heart-healthy diets are low in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and refined sugars and include foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.
  • Stay active. Try to get at least 30 minutes of activity a day, whether it’s walking, swimming, cycling or gardening. All of these activities will help to reduce risk of heart disease.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts extra strain on your heart.

Other Helpful Reading

Top 10 Myths about Cardiovascular DiseaseAmerican Heart Association


WebMD Heart Disease Health Center

American Heart Association


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