Understanding heart disease

What is Heart Disease?

understanding heart disease

Heart disease is a broad term which people use loosely to describe a number of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. A more accurate term to use would be “cardiovascular disease” but it’s a bit of a mouthful if you’re not used to medical terms. Cardiovascular disease refers to a collection of conditions which affect the heart (cardio-) and blood vessels (vascular).

The heart is made up of:

  • muscle which pumps blood
  • valves which keep the blood moving forward
  • arteries which supply oxygen and food to the heart muscle
  • the pericardium, the outer sac which surrounds the heart

Problems may arise from any of these structures.

Coronary artery disease

This is among the best known forms of cardiovascular disease. It is a condition in which the blood vessels that supply oxygen and food to the heart become blocked and the heart muscle cannot function properly. This eventually leads to a “heart attack” when there is death of the heart muscle.

The most common cause of blockage of the arteries is artherosclerosis, a condition where fat is laid down on the artery walls gradually causing narrowing until blood can’t pass through it anymore. Coronary artery disease eventually leads to coronary heart disease which refers to a condition where disease of the coronary arteries has led to heart symptoms such as chest pain or a heart attack (myocardial infarction).


This means that the heart muscle itself is damaged. This can be due to a heart attack for example.

Valvular disease

This affects the valves in the heart and can be due to narrowing or inability of the valves to close properly leading to blood leaking backwards. The strain that is put on the heart muscle eventually leads to cardiomyopathy.

Pericardial disease

This affects the outer coat of the heart

Congenital heart disease

These are heart conditions that you are born with.

Heart failure (Congestive cardiac failure)

This is a condition in which the heart can’t pump blood effectively around the body. As a result, organs in the body can’t get enough oxygen and nutrients. This can lead to build up of fluid in the tissues when it is then known as congestive cardiac (heart) failure.

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