Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. The most common type is coronary artery disease. Risk factors include high cholesterol, being overweight, and high blood pressure. It usually takes years for symptoms to appear; in many cases, the first symptom is a heart attack. While there is no cure, the condition often can be treated through lifestyle changes (such as losing weight or quitting smoking) and possibly taking medication.
What Is Heart Disease?
Heart disease refers to diseases that only occur in the heart and the blood vessel system within it. The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, which is the focus of this article. This article uses the phrase "heart disease" to refer specifically to coronary heart disease.
(Click Heart Diseases to learn about other types of the disease.)
Other names for coronary heart disease include:
- Coronary artery disease (CAD)
- Ischemic heart disease.
Understanding Heart Disease
The coronary arteries are blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the heart muscle. When these arteries become clogged with fatty deposits called plaque, it's called coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease, or just heart disease. Clogged arteries can keep the heart from getting enough blood and oxygen, and can cause chest pain (angina). If a blood clot forms, it can suddenly cut off blood flow in the artery and cause a heart attack.
Plaque forms in the arteries over many years in a process called atherosclerosis. One cause of plaque in the arteries is too much cholesterol in the blood. As plaque builds up, the artery gradually narrows and becomes clogged. The artery can also become less elastic, which is often referred to as "hardening of the arteries."