Author: Erin Heger
Date: February 11, 2020
- There are many different types of heart disease but they all refer to some type of condition that damages your heart.
- Many heart diseases have similar root causes including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and genetics.
- This article was reviewed by Purvi Parwani, MD, cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Health Clinic at Loma Linda University International Heart Institute.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it causes one in every four deaths.
But there are many different types of heart disease. Here’s what you need to know about what causes some of the most common types, and the biggest risk factors.
What causes heart disease
Heart disease is a term used to describe many different conditions that damage your heart. Some of the most common types include:
- Coronary artery disease. Also known as ischemic heart disease is a narrowing of the coronary arteries due to plaque buildup, and the most common type of heart disease in the United States. Plaque build-up consists of cholesterol and other fatty deposits on the walls of an artery, narrowing the artery over time and decreasing blood flow.
- Myocardial infarction. Also known as a heart attack, is a blockage of blood flow to the heart. This is typically the result of plaque build-up in the artery that breaks away and forms a clot, thus obstructing blood flow. Every year, about 805,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the CDC.
- Hypertensive heart disease. A heart condition caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure when the force of blood against the artery walls is too high, causing the heart to weaken by working against the high pressures.
- Congestive heart failure. This occurs when the heart is weakened and not able to efficiently pump blood throughout the body. Other health conditions that affect your cardiovascular system can result in congestive heart failure, such as damage to your heart valves, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease.
- Congenital heart disease is present at birth, caused by heart defects that occur when the heart is formed in the womb. Congenital heart defects are one of the most common types of birth defects, affecting about 40,000 births per year in the United States.
The major risk factors for heart disease
While there are many different types of heart disease, many of them have similar root causes.
According to Nimish Dhruva, MD, director of cardiology at Piedmont Fayette Hospital, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking cigarettes cause inflammation in the arteries and result in plaque building up, increasing your risk of heart disease when left uncontrolled.
Research has found that 47% of US adults with heart disease have at least one of these major risk factors. Lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and foods low in sodium can help lower your risk of heart disease.
Secondary risk factors for heart disease include inflammatory stress because inflammation can irritate your blood vessels and may contribute to plaque build-up, Dhruva says. The risk of heart disease increases with age, and men are also at a higher risk of heart disease than women.
Family history can play a big role in your risk of developing heart disease, says Tariq Ahmad, MD, a cardiologist at Yale Medicine. A genetic predisposition to high blood pressure and high cholesterol can run in families. If you are over the age of 20 and have a parent or sibling who had a heart attack before the age of 50, you are twice as likely to have a heart attack than those without a family history.
“Unfortunately, a significant percentage of people can have heart disease in spite of having an excellent diet and exercising a lot,” Admad says. “People can inherit broken genes that cause the heart muscle to fail or be predisposed to life-threatening arrhythmias.”
Ahmad says those with a strong family history of heart disease should see a cardiologist and get a personalized risk assessment.