There are many types of heart disease. I like to break them down into three categories, using the analogy of a house.

First, there are plumbing problems with the heart. We have arteries that lie on the surface of the heart and supply blood to the heart muscle, much like the plumbing in your house. Same as the pipes in your home can get clogged, the arteries of your heart can get clogged. The most common cause of heart artery blockage is cholesterol plaque. That is why high cholesterol and poor diet are risk factors for heart disease. If the blockage in the coronary arteries becomes severe, it can cause angina which is chest pain from the heart. This chest pain usually occurs with exercise, stress, or cold temperatures. If the cholesterol plaque is mild, it may not cause any symptoms, but mild, soft plaque is the most common type of plaque that causes a heart attack. The plaque becomes inflamed and unstable and ruptures, releasing substances into the artery which causes a blood clot to form. When this happens, blood flow is suddenly and significantly impaired to the heart muscle and can cause heart muscle damage if untreated.

A second type of heart disease involves the walls and structures of the heart. This type of heart disease includes congestive heart failure, usually caused either by weakening of the heart muscle or stiffness of the heart muscle. Also included in this category are valvular heart diseases, where the heart valves don’t open or close properly, such as aortic stenosis and valvular regurgitation or leaky heart valves.
The third type of heart disease is electrical problems with the heart. Just like a house, your heart has an electrical system. Problems can arise when the heart has extra electrical pathways, extra heartbeats, or a tendency to have abnormal heart rhythms.

All types of heart problems can be serious. Risk factors for one kind of heart problem are often risk factors for the other types. So, controlling your risk factors decreases the risk of all kinds of heart disease. Risk factor modification can be difficult for people to accomplish and maintain long-term on their own.

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