Learn About Ailments | Heart disease

Heart disease

Heart disease is a condition that affects the heart muscle or the blood vessels of the heart. It is an umbrella term used to describe any disorder that affects the heart's ability to function properly, such as pulmonary and coronary heart disease.
Heart disease

In This Article
Watch the heart disease video Causes of heart disease
Symptoms of heart disease Diagnosis of heart disease
Related terms


Did you know?
  • 90,000 people per year in the UK die from coronary heart disease
  • 34% of deaths in the UK are caused by heart and circulatory disease
  • Death rates from heart disease are higher in Scotland than England
  • 1 in 5 male deaths are caused by heart and circulatory disease
  • For women, it's 1 in 6 deaths
  • 300,000 people suffer a heart attack every year in the UK

There are a number of different heart diseases such as inflammatory, hypertensive and valvular however the most common type is Coronary heart disease. One in four people die from coronary heart disease in the UK each year and the condition describes the interruption of blood supply to the heart by a build-up of fatty substances within the coronary artery walls.

These fatty deposits (known as atheromateous plaques) are caused by cholesterol and waste substances which make the artery walls narrower and restrict blood flow to the heart. Known as atherosclerosis, the process increases significantly if:

  • You smoke
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have high cholesterol
  • You do not exercise regularly
  • You are diabetic
  • You have thrombosis
  • You're overweight/obese
  • You have a family history of heart disease, heart attacks or angina

If the arteries in the heart become partially blocked, pain can be felt in the chest (known as angina). If the arteries are completely blocked, a heart attack is likely (known as a myocardial infarction).

Angina symptoms can be mild and feel similar to indigestion. If severe, angina can feel like a heavy weight pressing on the centre of the chest or a tightness across the chest. This pain can spread to the arms, back, jaw, neck or stomach. Angina is usually triggered by physical activity or stress and symptoms pass after about 15 minutes.

A heart attack is similar to angina but the pain and discomfort is more severe. A heart attack can be accompanied by sweating, dizziness, nausea and breathlessness.

Coronary heart disease can also cause heart palpitations whereby the heart beats harder or in an irregular rhythm.

If the heart becomes too weak, it is unable to pump blood around the body which can lead to a build-up of fluid in the lungs. This makes breathing extremely difficult. Heart failure can be immediate or occur over a longer period of time.

If you suspect you may be suffering heart problems you should visit your GP in the first instance. If your pain is severe then seek emergency medical attention.

A GP will refer you to a heart specialist (known as a cardiologist) who will use a variety of tests to determine the extent of your heart-related problems.

Tests you may undergo include:

  • Angiogram
  • ECG (electrocardiogram)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Radionuclide test
  • Electrophysiological test

Factors which will be taken into account when diagnosing heart disease include whether or not you smoke, your diet, your BMI (body mass index), if you're diabetic, if you suffer with high blood pressure and your age.

Blood supply
Cardiovascular disease
Heart failure
Hypertensive heart disease
Inflammatory heart disease
Valvular heart disease

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