Heart Disease is the Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. in Women and Men

heart disease

Heart disease is a term that refers to several types of heart conditions. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease, affecting approximately 1 in 20 adults in the United States. You can greatly reduce your risk for heart disease through lifestyle changes, and if you do have heart disease, you can often manage it through medication and lead a full life.

Common chronic heart disease conditions

“Chronic heart disease refers to any heart problem that is ongoing,” said Jay Ambrose, MD, FACC, an interventional cardiologist with DuBois Regional Cardiology Associates. “Chronic conditions are often progressive, too, which means they may get worse over time.”

Common chronic heart diseases include:

  • Coronary artery disease or ischemic heart disease is the narrowing of the major blood vessels inside the heart. It is usually caused by atherosclerosis, which is when a waxy buildup of plaque lines the walls of the arteries.
  • Arrhythmia is when the heart beats too fast, too slow or irregularly. It is a very common heart condition and typically harmless. However, very irregular rhythms can lead to serious heart problems.
  • Congestive heart failure is when the heart is not pumping blood as well as it should be. This could be because of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure or other reasons.
  • Heart valve disease is when one or more of the four valves that control blood flow inside your heart does not work properly. Heart valve disease might be something you are born with or it can develop over time.
  • Congenital heart disease is any abnormality of the structure of the heart that has been present since birth. Common congenital heart defects include heart valve disease and defective blood vessels.
  • Heart muscle disease, also called cardiomyopathy, is when the heart muscles become rigid or enlarged, making it difficult for the heart to pump properly. Heart muscle disease may lead to heart failure.
  • Pericardial disease, or pericarditis, is inflammation of the thin sac of tissue that surrounds the heart. It can be caused by viral infection, heart attack, trauma or a number of other conditions.
  • Aorta disease refers to any type of condition that damages the body’s largest blood vessel, the aorta. It can lead to life-threatening bulges or tears in the blood vessel. Aorta disease is caused by high blood pressure, plaque buildup, trauma and genetic factors.

Risk factors of heart disease

The risk factors for heart disease include both lifestyle choices and factors that you cannot change such as:

  • Personal history of heart attack or stroke
  • Family history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke or diabetes
  • Age
  • Race and ethnicity (non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks and Native Americans are at increased risk)
  • Diets high in saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Tobacco and alcohol use

Tests to monitor heart disease risk

It is important to keep up with health screenings to monitor your heart health. Your primary care provider may use one or more of the following tests to monitor your risk for heart disease:

  • Blood pressure check
  • Cholesterol panel
  • Blood glucose test
  • Atrial fibrillation screening
  • Peripheral vascular disease screening
  • Cardiovascular risk assessment

How are chronic heart diseases treated?

If you are diagnosed with a chronic heart disease, such as congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease, your life is not over. Many people live a full life with a chronic heart disease. If you have a chronic heart condition, your primary care provider and a cardiologist can help with monitoring your disease regularly and develop a plan to help you manage it. Treatment for chronic heart conditions usually include medications to control the disease and/or the symptoms.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be critical to managing a chronic heart condition,” said Dr. Ambrose. “A healthy diet, regular exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol use, managing stress and getting adequate sleep can all help improve your heart and overall health.”

If you are diagnosed with heart disease or another cardiovascular condition, the expert doctors at The Heart Center of Penn Highlands Healthcare treat all types of heart disease, including arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation, blockages, congestive heart failure and more. For more information or to find a provider near you, visit www.phhealthcare.org/heartcare.