We have provided a selected list of common cardio-related conditions and diseases on this page. They are listed in alphabetical order. Many of the topics also have images that can be enlarged when clicked on.
The descriptions provided below are for general information purposes only. They are not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be applied to any individual situation without prior medical consultation.
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An aneurysm is a permanent ballooning in the wall of an artery. The pressure of blood passing through can force part of a weakened artery to bulge outward. Most aneurysms occur in the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Although any blood vessel can be affected, most aneurysms occur in the aorta, the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. They also occur in arteries nourishing the brain (called a cerebral aneurysm). Aneurysms in any of these places are serious, while those in other locations such as the leg are often less hazardous.
The most serious threat an aneurysm poses is that it will burst and cause a stroke or life-threatening massive bleeding (hemorrhage). If an aneurysm ruptures, the patient must be treated immediately to have a chance of survival.
Early diagnosis and treatment of an aneurysm are critical. Because aneurysms often produce either no symptoms or mild symptoms, routine exams are strongly encouraged so that a doctor can regularly test for warning signs of a more serious problem. Aneurysms can often be detected by X-ray, CT or ultrasound.
Treatment can be either medical to reduce blood pressure and decrease the chance of rupture or surgical to repair the dilated aneurysmal vessel.Even if it doesn’t rupture, a large aneurysm can impede circulation and contribute to the formation of blood clots.
An aneurysm can be caused by any condition that causes arterial walls to weaken or deteriorate. The most common culprits are atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
If you have a feeling of pressure or a squeezing in your chest, it may be angina. It can feel like a heart attack, but often it’s a warning sign from your heart. The chest pain from angina may manifest in one of several ways. You may feel:
•Feeling of fullness in the chest
You are likely to have pain behind your breastbone, but it can spread to your shoulders, arms, neck, throat, jaw, or back. It’s possible to mistake an aching or burning for heartburn or gas.
You may also have shortness of breath, sweating, or dizziness.
The chest pain you feel with angina happens because there isn’t enough blood flowing to part of your heart. It’s a symptom of heart disease, and it’s often caused when a fatty substance called plaque builds up in the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart muscle. This forces the heart to work with less oxygen, and that causes pain. Angina usually goes away quickly, but it can be a symptom of a life-threatening heart problem.
There are different types of angina:
Stable Angina. This is the most common, often triggered by physical activity or stress. It usually lasts a few minutes, and it goes away when you rest. It isn’t a heart attack , but it’s a sign that you’re more likely to have one in the future. If this happens to you, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor.
Unstable Angina. This type occurs while you’re at rest or not very active. The pain can be strong and long lasting, and can come back again and again. It can be a signal that you’re about to have a heart attack, so see a doctor right away.
Prinzmetal’s or Variant Angina. This type is rare and occurs when the heart arteries suddenly tighten or narrow. It might happen at night during sleep or while at rest. The heart arteries suddenly tighten or narrow, often causing a lot of pain.
An arrhythmia occurs when a heart beats too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. An arrhythmia can be harmless or life-threatening. Causes may include coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart surgery, blood imbalances, changes in your heart muscle, and more. There are many types of arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. Treatments include medications and lifestyle changes, cardioversion, pacemakers, ICDs, and surgery.
When symptoms of an arrhythmia occur, they may include:
•Palpitations (a feeling of skipped heart beats, fluttering or “flip-flops”).
•Pounding in your chest.
•Dizziness or feeling light-headed.
•Shortness of breath.
•Weakness or fatigue (feeling very tired).
Irregular heart rhythms can also occur in otherwise normal, healthy hearts. An arrhythmia can be silent and not cause any symptoms. A doctor can detect an irregular heartbeat during a physical exam by taking your pulse or through an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).
Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve. The aortic valve allows blood to flow from the heart’s lower left chamber (ventricle) into the aorta and to the body. Stenosis prevents the valve from opening properly, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the valve. This causes pressure to build up in the left ventricle and thickens the heart muscle.
Your heart can make up for aortic valve stenosis and the extra pressure for a long time. But at some point, it won’t be able to keep up the extra effort of pumping blood through the narrowed valve. This can lead to heart failure.
Some of the causes of aortic valve stenosis include:
• Calcium buildup on the aortic valve. As you age, calcium can build up on the valve, making it hard and thick. This buildup happens over time, so symptoms usually don’t appear until after age 65.
• A heart defect you were born with (congenital).
• Rheumatic fever or endocarditis. These infections can damage the valve.
Aortic valve stenosis is a slow process. For many years, even decades, you will not feel any symptoms. But at some point, the valve will likely become so narrow (often one-fourth of its normal size) that you start having problems. Symptoms are often brought on by exercise, when the heart has to work harder.
As aortic valve stenosis gets worse, symptoms may include:
• Chest pain or pressure (angina). You may have a heavy, tight feeling in your chest.
• Feeling dizzy or faint.
• Feeling tired and being short of breath.
• A feeling that your heart is pounding, racing, or beating unevenly (palpitations).
Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder. In atrial fibrillation, the electrical signal in the heart either does not begin where it should or is not conducted properly, leading to a very fast rate and causes the walls of the atria to quiver quickly (fibrillate) and makes them unable to effectively pass blood into the ventricles. The two most common complications of long-term atrial fibrillation are heart failure and stroke. Stroke can result from atrial fibrillation because when the atria are fibrillating, clots can form there and could travel to the brain causing a stroke.
Atrial fibrillation can be caused by conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), coronary artery disease, heart failure, diabetes, and obesity.
Atrial fibrillation can be occasional (“paroxysmal”) or persistent. It can be asymptomatic or cause symptoms, such as palpitations, chest pain or shortness of breath. Treatment and management includes preventing blood clots, controlling heart rate and restoring a normal heart rhythm. To restore normal heart rhythm medications (“antiarrhythmics”) may be effective but when medication is ineffective other treatments can include cardioversion (an electrical current used to reset the hearts normal rhythm), ablation therapy (a minimally invasive procedure), or open-heart or minimally-invasive surgery.
Cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disease, is a type of progressive heart disease in which the heart is abnormally enlarged, thickened, and/or stiffened. As a result, the heart’s ability to pump blood is weakened, often causing heart failure and the backup of blood into the lungs or rest of the body. There are three main types of cardiomyopathy – dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and restrictive cardiomyopathy.
In cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or rigid. In rare cases, the muscle tissue in the heart is replaced with scar tissue.
As cardiomyopathy worsens, the heart becomes weaker. It’s less able to pump blood through the body and maintain a normal electrical rhythm. This can lead to heart failure or irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias. In turn, heart failure can cause fluid to build up in the lungs, ankles, feet, legs, or abdomen.
The weakening of the heart also can cause other complications, such as heart valve problems.
Cardiomyopathy can be acquired or inherited. “Acquired” means you aren’t born with the disease, but you develop it due to another disease, condition, or factor. “Inherited” means your parents passed the gene for the disease on to you. Many times, the cause of cardiomyopathy isn’t known.
Cardiomyopathy can affect people of all ages. However, people in certain age groups are more likely to have certain types of cardiomyopathy.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that is made in your body. Cholesterol is also in some foods that you eat. Too much cholesterol in the blood is called high blood cholesterol, hypercholesterolemia, or dyslipidemia. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol; conversely, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol. High “bad” cholesterol increases the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
There are no signs or symptoms of high blood cholesterol. Many people don’t know that their cholesterol level is too high. Many people are able to lower their cholesterol levels by eating a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, exercising, and losing weight if needed. Some people will need to take medicines prescribed by their doctor to lower their cholesterol in addition to eating a low saturated fat and low cholesterol diet, exercising, and losing weight if needed.
Heart failure refers to a large number of conditions which affect the structure or function of the heart, making it difficult for the heart to supply sufficient blood flow to meet the body’s needs. It occurs when one or more of the heart’s four chambers lose its ability to maintain proper blood flow. This can happen because the heart can’t fill well enough with blood or because the heart can’t contract strongly enough to propel the blood with enough force to maintain proper circulation. In some people, both filling and contraction problems can occur.
The most common cause of heart failure is coronary artery disease. Other causes of heart failure include hypertension, valvular heart disease, infections, drug abuse, or arrhythmias. There are also many less common causes of congestive heart failure. There are many symptoms of heart failure including chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of the extremities, irregular heart beat, cough or wheezing, abdominal swelling, decrease appetite, and poor sleep.
Congenital heart defects includes abnormalities in cardiovascular structures that occur before birth.. These defects can involve the interior walls of the heart, valves inside the heart, or the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or out to the body and may affect approximately 1 in 100 children.
Congenital heart defects may produce symptoms at birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood. Other congenital defects may cause no symptoms.
In the majority of people, the cause of congenital heart disease is unknown. However, there are some factors that are associated with an increased chance of having congenital heart disease.
These risk factors include:
•Genetic or chromosomal abnormalities in the child, such as Down syndrome
•Taking certain medications or alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy
•Maternal viral infection, such as rubella (German measles) in the first trimester of pregnancy
Although congenital heart disease is often considered a childhood condition, advances in surgical treatment mean most babies who once died of congenital heart disease survive well into adulthood.
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a result of plaque buildup in your arteries, which blocks blood flow and heightens the risk for heart attack and stroke. It is the No. 1 killer in America, affecting more than 13 million Americans. When plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, the heart receives less blood. The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina. Other symptoms that can occur with coronary artery disease include:
•Shortness of breath
•Palpitations (irregular heart beats, skipped beats, or a “flip-flop” feeling in your chest)
•A faster heartbeat
•Weakness or dizziness
Risk factors for CAD include hypertension, diabetes, abnormal cholesterol, cigarette smoking, obesity, family history of CAD, age, and stress.
Endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s valves or inner lining. It typically occurs when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged heart valves. It can involve other areas of the heart too, as well as implanted cardiac devices such as artificial heart valves, pacemakers, or implantable defibrillators.
This infection can damage your heart. It needs to be treated right away. If it isn’t treated, endocarditis can be deadly or can cause permanent valve damage, result in congestive heart failure, cause strokes, or spread to affect other organ systems, such as the musculoskeletal system or kidneys.
Symptoms may appear quickly, within a few days of infection, and may include:
•Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, night sweats, and fatigue. These are often the first symptoms.
•Muscle or joint pain.
•Lasting cough and shortness of breath.
•Blood under the fingernails or tiny purple and red spots under the skin.
Treatments for endocarditis include antibiotics and, in severe cases, surgery.
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, resulting in heart muscle death. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the heart starts to die. This usually occurs because fatty deposits called plaque have built up inside the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. If a plaque breaks open, the body tries to fix it by forming a clot around it. The clot can block the artery, preventing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. When one of these plaques rupture, a clot forms rapidly at the site and causes a sudden obstruction of blood flow in the coronary artery.
Typical symptoms of a myocardial infarction include chest pressure or pain, shortness of breath, profound sweating, nausea, vomiting, and/or fainting. Without immediate treatment, a myocardial infarction can cause permanent damage to the heart muscle and chaotic, abnormal heart beating. Both conditions can be fatal.
Hypertension is the most common cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure. Blood pressure numbers include systolic and diastolic pressures. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart is relaxing between beats. You can have high blood pressure (hypertension) for years without any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, aneurysms, and kidney failure.
Normal blood pressure rises steadily from about 90/60 at birth to about 120/80 in a healthy adult.
The diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is made if you have any three out of these five heart disease risk factors: a large waistline (for men: 40 inches or larger, for women: 35 inches or larger), a higher than normal triglyceride level (150 mg/dL or higher), a lower than normal level of HDL cholesterol (for men: Less than 40 mg/dL, for women: Less than 50 mg/dL high-density lipoprotein cholesterol), higher than normal blood pressure (135/85 mm Hg or greater), and higher than normal fasting blood sugar (100 mg/dL or higher glucose).
Having metabolic syndrome increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The first line of treatment for metabolic syndrome is lifestyle changes, including weight loss, increased physical activity, and a healthy diet.
The mitral valve is a valve that lets blood flow from your heart’s left upper chamber , the left atrium, to the left lower chamber, the left ventricle. Mitral valve prolapse (MVP) occurs when this valve doesn’t close properly. During mitral valve prolapse, the mitral valve bulges (prolapses) upward, or back into the atrium.
For most people with mitral valve prolapse, the cause is unknown.
Mitral valve prolapse can run in families. It can also be caused by conditions in which cartilage is abnormal (connective tissue disease).
Most people with mitral valve prolapse have no symptoms. They also never experience any health problems due to mitral valve prolapse.
Symptoms may include palpitations, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, chest pain or fatigue.
This condition is typically diagnosed with an echocardiogram. In most people, mitral valve prolapse isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t require treatment or changes in lifestyle. Some people with mitral valve prolapse, however, require treatment.
A murmur is a sound which can be heard through a stethoscope while listening to the heart. The sound is usually created by blood moving through heart valves. Most murmurs do not indicate a serious problem. In some cases, significant heart valve abnormalities or congenital heart defects may first be detected because of a heart murmur.
A sensation in which a person is aware of an irregular, hard, or rapid heartbeat. It can appear to skip beats, beat rapidly, beat irregularly, or thump in the chest. Palpitations can be caused by anxiety, arrhythmias, caffeine, certain medications, cocaine and other amphetamines, emotional stress, overeating, panic, somatization, and vigorous exercise. Dizziness, shortness of breath, and chest pain may be signs of more severe arrhythmias.
Pericarditis is an inflammatory condition of the pericardium, the thin sac-like membrane that surrounds your heart. Pericarditis often causes chest pain. The sharp chest pain associated with pericarditis occurs when the inflamed or irritated two layers of the pericardium rub against each other.
Causes of pericarditis include infections, autoimmune conditions, or following heart attacks or heart surgery. Mild cases may improve without treatment. Treatment for more-severe cases may include medications and, rarely, surgery.
Pericardial effusion is the accumulation of excess fluid around the heart. Pericardial effusion is often related to inflammation of the pericardium, malignancy, or injury, but pericardial effusion can also occur without inflammation. When the volume of fluid exceeds the pericardium’s “full” level, pericardial effusion puts pressure on the heart, causing poor heart function. If left untreated, significant pericardial effusion can cause heart failure or death.
Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of your heart. As the pressure builds, your heart’s lower right chamber (right ventricle) must work harder to pump blood through your lungs, eventually causing your heart muscle to weaken and fail.
Causes of pulmonary hypertension include pulmonary embolus, COPD, connective tissue disorders, sleep apnea, congenital heart disease, chronic liver disease, interstitial lung disease, left sided heart failure, or illicit drug use. Pulmonary hypertension is a serious illness that becomes progressively worse and is sometimes fatal. Although pulmonary hypertension isn’t always curable, treatments are available that can help lessen symptoms and improve your quality of life.
A stroke (also transient ischemic attack (TIA)) occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. The symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; vision changes; sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache.
During a TIA or “mini-stroke”, you may have some or all of the symptoms of a stroke. However, the symptoms usually go away on their own within 24 hours. Even if the symptoms stop quickly, you should seek medical attention. A mini-stroke is a warning sign that you’re at high risk of having a stroke.
Tachycardia is a faster than normal heart rate. A healthy adult heart normally beats 60 to 100 times a minute when a person is at rest. If you have tachycardia, the heart rate is increased significantly. Symptoms of tachycardia include dizziness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, rapid pulse rate, palpitations, chest pain, or fainting. In some instances, the cause of a tachycardia is benign and physiologic. Occasionally, the cause of a tachycardia may be due to abnormal electrical pathways in the heart and would require further studies, medications, or procedures.
Ventricular fibrillation is a heart rhythm problem that occurs when the heart beats with rapid, erratic electrical impulses. The heart is unable to effectively pump blood. Ventricular fibrillation is frequently triggered by a heart attack and is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. A person with ventricular fibrillation will collapse within seconds and soon won’t be breathing or have a pulse.
Emergency treatment for ventricular fibrillation includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and shocks to the heart with a device called a defibrillator. Subsequent treatments for those who survived ventricular fibrillation typically include medications and implantable devices that can restore a normal heart rhythm.