Heart diseasee describes a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you're born with (congenital heart defects), among others.
The term "heart disease" is often used interchangeably with the term "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart's muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
Risk factors for developing heart disease include:
Age. Aging increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle.
Sex. Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. However, women's risk increases after menopause.
Family history. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).
Smoking. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in nonsmokers.
Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy for cancer. Some chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapies may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Poor diet. A diet that's high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaques and atherosclerosis.
Diabetes. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.
Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors, as well.
Stress. Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
Poor hygiene. Not regularly washing your hands and not establishing other habits that can help prevent viral or bacterial infections can put you at risk of heart infections, especially if you already have an underlying heart condition. Poor dental health also may contribute to heart disease.
Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can't be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making the same lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease, such as:
Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes
Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
Eat a diet that's low in salt and saturated fat
Maintain a healthy weight
Reduce and manage stress
Practice good hygiene
The tests you'll need to diagnose your heart disease depend on what condition your doctor thinks you might have. No matter what type of heart disease you have, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and ask about your personal and family medical history before doing any tests. Besides blood tests and a chest X-ray, tests to diagnose heart disease can include:
Electrocardiogram (ECG). An ECG records these electrical signals and can help your doctor detect irregularities in your heart's rhythm and structure. You may have an ECG while you're at rest or while exercising (stress electrocardiogram).
Holter monitoring. A Holter monitor is a portable device you wear to record a continuous ECG, usually for 24 to 72 hours. Holter monitoring is used to detect heart rhythm irregularities that aren't found during a regular ECG exam.
Echocardiogram. This noninvasive exam, which includes an ultrasound of your chest, shows detailed images of your heart's structure and function.
Stress test. This type of test involves raising your heart rate with exercise or medicine while performing heart tests and imaging to check how your heart responds.
Cardiac catheterization. In this test, a short tube (sheath) is inserted into a vein or artery in your leg (groin) or arm. A hollow, flexible and longer tube (guide catheter) is then inserted into the sheath. Aided by X-ray images on a monitor, your doctor threads the guide catheter through that artery until it reaches your heart.
The pressures in your heart chambers can be measured, and dye can be injected. The dye can be seen on an X-ray, which helps your doctor see the blood flow through your heart, blood vessels and valves to check for abnormalities.
Cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan. This test is often used to check for heart problems. In a cardiac CT scan, you lie on a table inside a doughnut-shaped machine. An X-ray tube inside the machine rotates around your body and collects images of your heart and chest.
Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). For this test, you lie on a table inside a long tube-like machine that produces a magnetic field. The magnetic field produces pictures to help your doctor evaluate your heart.
Heart disease treatments vary by condition. For instance, if you have a heart infection, you'll likely be given antibiotics. In general, treatment for heart disease usually includes:
Lifestyle changes. These include eating a low-fat and low-sodium diet, getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake.
Medications. If lifestyle changes alone aren't enough, your doctor may prescribe medications to control your heart disease. The type of medication will depend on the type of heart disease.
Medical procedures or surgery. If medications aren't enough, it's possible your doctor will recommend specific procedures or surgery. The type of procedure will depend on the type of heart disease and the extent of the damage to your heart.
Mayo Clinic cardiologists and cardiac surgeons have experience treating people with conditions of the heart, arteries and veins (cardiovascular diseases).
Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons work with a team of doctors trained in many areas to determine the most appropriate treatment for your individual needs.
Mayo Clinic offers several surgical services and procedures, including but not limited to those listed below. Not all services may be available at all locations. Please confirm when you call to request an appointment.
Aortic root surgery
Aortic valve repair and aortic valve replacement
Atrial fibrillation ablation
Atrial flutter ablation
Cardiac resynchronization therapy
Cardiovascular disease prevention
Carotid angioplasty and stenting
Congenital heart disease surgery
Coronary bypass surgery
Heart valve surgery
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs)
Lung volume reduction surgery
Minimally invasive heart surgery
Minimally invasive surgery
Mitral valve repair and mitral valve replacement
Neonatal and pediatric heart surgery
Nonpharmacological arrhythmia therapy
Percutaneous valve procedures
Pulmonary valve repair and replacement
Transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR)
Tricuspid valve repair and tricuspid valve replacement
Ventricular assist device (VAD)
Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)