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Common Types of Heart Disease - Coronary Artery Disease and Hypertension

Updated on August 17, 2020
Alicia M Prater profile image

Alicia has a PhD in Experimental Pathology and once taught basic physiology and pathology to grad students.

Structure and blood vessels of the human heart
Structure and blood vessels of the human heart | Source

The Mechanics of Heart Disease

The heart is an integral organ in the human body. It is made of specialized cells that contract in response to its own electrical conductance system, keeping the blood flowing through the body. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients to every cell - returning waste products to the lungs and kidney for excretion and exhalation.

When the heart cannot function normally, the entire body suffers, and may even die. Heart disease has been the leading cause in both the United States and worldwide for most of the 21st century (see World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control for mortality statistics). Many specific disorders fall under the umbrella of heart disease, including hypertension and congenital valve disorders, but the most common form is ischemic heart disease, a lack of blood to the heart tissue itself. In the U.S., 13 million people are estimated to have coronary artery disease.

Types of Heart Disease

General cause
General treatment
Congenital heart disease
Problem with fetal heart development
Depends on exact defect - lack of oxygen, death, kidney dysfunction
Dependent on exact defect - corrective surgery, transplant, no treatment
Pericarditis/pericardial effusion
Infection or inflammation of the sac around the heart
Scarring and restriction of the heart
Anti-inflammatories, other drugs as needed, surgery
Primary defect in the heart muscle
Reduced function
Depends on the exact defect and result - transplant, surgery, drugs
Valve disorders
Infection, trauma, congenital, other heart disease
Shortness of breath, reduced heart efficiency, dizziness
Transplant, medications, preventing exacerbation
Rhythm disorders (e.g., afib)
Electrical system dysfunction, other heart disease
Depends on exact dysfunction - chest pains, palpitations, death
Depends on exact dysfunction - pacemaker, transplant, medication
Coronary artery disease
Atherosclerosis, clots
Heart attack (myocardial infarction)
Diet, lifestyle, medications, surgery
Ischemic heart disease
Atherosclerosis, scarring/trauma, clots
Stroke (cerebral infarction), ischemia in tissue/organs
Depends on affected vessels - surgery, medication, lifestyle

The Role of Cholesterol in Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease occurs when the supply of blood to the outer layer of the heart is inhibited or when those vessels are damaged. Blockage of the coronary arteries prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching the outer portion of the heart and the resulting damage is referred to as a heart attack (known as myocardial infarction, or MI).

Having high cholesterol levels, particularly those of LDL type, can cause blood vessel damage and lead to heart disease when other factors are present. These factors include smoking, obesity, family predisposition and genetics including homocysteinuria, hypertension, and diabetes.

Cholesterol is made by the liver as well as being part of a healthy dietary intake of fats. Excess cholesterol is deposited in the blood vessels.

These cholesterol-laden plaques often develop over decades and are a common and normal occurrence in aging blood vessels. The hardening of the arteries and their obstruction, including that leading to a heart attack, is called atherosclerosis. Plaque development begins in youth and is enhanced by environmental or genetic factors as a person ages - the livers of some patients produce too much cholesterol, hypertension increases the stress put on the plaques and vessels, and obesity and diet increase fatty acids that perpetuate plaque buildup, to name a few.

The atherosclerotic plaques become a danger when they obstruct blood flow, rupture, or wear away the arterial wall. The event can go unnoticed or result in a severe complication, such as a heart attack, stroke, or hemorrhage. Plaques can also cause arterial walls to become worn and tear, leading to aneurysms. Clinical manifestations or complications of atherosclerosis are usually not seen until middle age. The clinical phase is more common in men, but begins to appear as frequently in women after menopause.

Progression of an atherosclerotic plaque
Progression of an atherosclerotic plaque | Source

Hypertension and Heart Disease

Hypertension is a consistent increase in arterial pressure and causes secondary organ dysfunction, particularly of the heart and kidneys.

Hypertension can cause the heart muscle to work harder, resulting in cardiomegaly (enlarged heart, e.g., ventricular hypertrophy) and other cardiomyopathies. Eventually the heart can no longer compensate for the effects on efficiency and heart failure ensues.

Hypertension is generally caused by a combination environmental and genetic factors.

The risk of hypertension and subsequent heart disease can be reduced by reducing dietary sodium and cholesterol intake (atherosclerosis is sometimes associated with increased blood pressure), exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Genetic factors can be controlled with medications, such as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), which act on the renin-angiotensin system, a major physiological hormone system involved in responding to the body's need for adjustments in blood pressure.

Left ventricular hypertrophy
Left ventricular hypertrophy | Source

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 Alicia M Prater


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  • ramkkasturi profile image


    11 years ago from India

    Quite a complex subject is well described. Though every one has some knowledge of the subject, this hub helps to improve it further.


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