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Heart Disease

Heart disease can appear in many forms. It can make you feel as if you don't have enough energy to do the things you'd like to do. Or it can make you feel seriously ill and even cause early death.

UPMC can help you protect your heart health. We can also help you treat other heart conditions and manage your heart disease symptoms.

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What Is Heart Disease?

Doctors define heart disease as a type of disease that affects your heart or blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease is another name for heart disease.

Heart disease is a common health issue. About 49% of people ages 20 and older have some form of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

What are the types of heart disease?

There are several types of heart disease.


An arrhythmia is when you have an abnormal heart rhythm. Your heart may beat irregularly, too fast, or too slow. It can feel like your heart flutters.

If you have an arrhythmia, your heart cannot pump blood in an efficient way. This can lead to blood clots forming in your heart. These blood clots can cause a stroke or heart attack.

Congenital heart disease (CHD)

CHD means you have heart disease from when you were born.

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

CAD is when you have narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. These are the blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to your heart muscle.

When fatty deposits called plaque build up inside, doctors refer to this as hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis).

Left untreated, CAD can lead to chest pain called angina, heart attack, or stroke.

CAD is the most common type of heart disease.

Some 1 in 20 U.S. adults age 20 and older have CAD. In 2021, more than 375,000 people died from CAD.


Doctors define endocarditis as inflammation of an inner layer of your heart.

Heart attack

A heart attack happens when part of your heart is not getting the blood it needs to work. A heart attack can make you very sick or lead to early death.

Each year, some 805,000 people have a heart attack. Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack.

Catching a heart attack early can help you get the treatment you need to save your life.

If you have symptoms of a heart attack, you should call 911 or other emergency services for help right away.

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pain or pressure in your chest or jaw.
  • Pain down your arms, often your left arm.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Fatigue or extreme weakness.
  • Nausea.
  • Sweating.
  • Vomiting.

Heart failure

Heart failure is when your heart muscle doesn't pump as much blood as your body needs. Failure doesn't mean that your heart has stopped working. It means that your heart isn't pumping as well as it should.

Symptoms of heart failure worsen as the issue gets worse.

They include:

  • Getting tired easily.
  • Feeling weak or dizzy.
  • Racing or pounding heart.
  • Shortness of breath during activity or physical exertion.
  • Feeling short of breath even at rest.
  • Swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet.
  • Weight gain, from water retention.
  • Coughing and wheezing, especially when you lie down.
  • Feeling bloated or sick to your stomach.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

PAD is when you have narrowed or blocked peripheral arteries. These are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of your body.

More than 8 million people age 40 and older in the U.S. have PAD, which often affects your lower limbs.

PAD symptoms include muscle pain or weakness that starts with activity, such as walking. But symptoms stop after a few minutes of rest.


Stroke happens when a blood vessel to your brain gets blocked. This can happen if a blood vessel becomes narrow or if a blood clot blocks your blood vessel.

In the U.S., stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and the fifth leading cause of death.

Stroke can cause severe brain damage. During a stroke, you lose 2 million brain cells each minute.

If you or someone you know is having any symptoms of stroke, call 911 right away.

Look for signs of UPMC's BE FAST:

  • Balance. Loss of coordination or balance.
  • Eyes. Sudden double vision or vision loss.
  • Face. Drooping on one side of the face.
  • Arms. One arm becomes weak or numb.
  • Speech. Slurred speech.
  • Time. BE FAST. Call 911.

Valvular heart disease

Heart valves help push blood from your heart to your body.

Valvular heart disease means you have a heart valve that doesn't open or close the way it should. This can affect how your heart pumps blood through your body.

Valvular heart disease includes mitral valve stenosis and mitral valve prolapse.

Symptoms of heart valve problems include shortness of breath and feeling tired or weak.

What causes heart disease?

Heart disease happens because something damages, blocks, or weakens the heart muscle or blood vessels leading to the heart.

What are heart disease risk factors and complications?

Your risk of getting any type of heart disease depends on your risk factors.

General heart disease risk factors

Some risk factors for heart disease are beyond your control.

These include:

  • Age. The risk of heart disease goes up with age.
  • Genetics or family history. Heart disease can run in families.

Health condition risk factors for heart disease

Certain health issues can increase your risk of heart disease.

These include:

  • Adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preeclampsia.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood cholesterol and other lipids.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Obesity or being overweight.
  • Metabolic syndrome.

Lifestyle risk factors for heart disease

Lifestyle choices can also lead to heart issues. Making better choices may help reduce your risk of heart disease.

Lifestyle risk factors include:

  • Eating a diet that isn't healthy.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.
  • Using illicit drugs.
  • Having a lifestyle where you sit too much.
  • Not getting regular physical activity.
  • Sleep problems, including obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Smoking and tobacco use.

Complications of heart disease

Left undiagnosed or untreated, heart disease can lead to:

  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.
  • Early death.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women. In 2021, some 695,000 people died from heart disease.

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Heart Disease Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the signs and symptoms of heart disease?

Different types of heart disease have different symptoms.

General symptoms of cardiovascular disease include:

  • Chest pain or pressure. Call 911 if you have symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Fatigue or feeling tired.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Shortness of breath or feeling winded.
  • Weakness.

How do you diagnose heart disease?

Doctors use many tests and scans to check your heart health.

Along with a physical exam and taking your health history, diagnosis can include:

  • Blood pressure readings.
  • Blood tests.
  • Electrocardiograms. Through stickers placed on your skin, this test measures electrical signals from your heart.
  • Stress or heart imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds.
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How Do You Treat Heart Disease?

Doctors treat different types of heart disease in different ways.

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Prevent your heart disease from getting worse.
  • Manage your heart disease symptoms.
  • Fix damage to your heart.
  • Prevent a first or second heart attack or stroke.

Arrhythmia treatments

Common treatment options for heart rhythm problems include:

  • Medicines.
  • Surgery to install a pacemaker, which will help your heart muscles contract and reset your heartbeat.

Heart attack treatments

Common treatment options for a heart attack include:

  • Medicines, including blood thinners to dissolve clots.
  • Surgery, including coronary angioplasty and coronary artery bypass surgery.

Heart failure treatments

Common treatment options for heart failure include:

  • Medicines to help the heart pump blood better.
  • Surgery to get a heart device that helps your heart work better. These include a pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or a ventricular assist device (VAD), also called a heart pump. Surgery may also include heart replacement surgery, although this isn't common.

Stroke treatments

Common treatment options for stroke include:

  • Medicines, including blood thinners to dissolve clots.
  • Surgery called carotid endarterectomy.

Valvular heart disease treatments

Common treatment options for heart valve problems include:

  • Medicines to help your heart pump blood more efficiently.
  • Surgery to repair or replace the damaged heart valve.

If you have heart disease, our doctors and their care teams can help you get the treatment you need.

If you need a cardiologist, we can help you find one. We'll then work as a team to find the best treatments for you.

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Learn More About Heart Disease on UPMC Healthbeat

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Last reviewed by Luna Chen, DO on 2024-04-17.