Cardiovascular Disease


What is heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease (heart disease) refers to a group of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels of your body. These diseases can affect one or many parts of your heart and /or blood vessels. A person may be symptomatic (physically experience the disease) or be asymptomatic (not feel anything at all).

Heart disease includes heart or blood vessel problems of these types:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms.
  • Heart valve disease.
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels in your heart, other organs or throughout your body with plaque.
  • Heart squeezing and relaxation difficulties.
  • Heart and blood vessel problems that you’re born with.
  • Problems with your heart’s outer lining.

What conditions are cardiovascular diseases?

There are many different types of cardiovascular diseases including but not limited to:

  • Arrhythmia: Problem with the electrical conduction system of your heart which can lead to abnormal heart rhythms or heart rates.
  • Valve disease: Problem with your heart valves (structures that allow blood to flow from one chamber to another chamber or blood vessel), such as valve tightening or leaking.
  • Coronary artery disease: Problem with the blood vessels of your heart, such as blockages.
  • Heart failure: Problem with heart pumping/relaxing functions, which lead to fluid buildup and shortness of breath.
  • Peripheral artery disease: Problem with the blood vessels of your arms, legs or abdominal organs, such as narrowing or blockages.
  • Aortic disease: Problem with the large blood vessel that directs blood from your heart to your brain and the rest of your body, such as dilatation or aneurysm.
  • Congenital heart disease: Heart problem that you’re born with, which can affect different parts of the heart.
  • Pericardial disease: Problem with the lining of your heart, including pericarditis and pericardial effusion.
  • Cerebrovascular disease: Problem with the blood vessels that deliver blood to your brain, such as narrowing or blockages.
  • Deep vein thrombosis: Blockage in the veins, vessels that bring blood back from your brain/body to your heart.

How common is heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world and in the U.S. Every year, 655,000 people in the United States die of heart disease.

Almost half of adults in the U.S. have some form of cardiovascular disease. It affects men and women. In fact, one in three women die from cardiovascular disease. It affects people of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes heart disease?

The causes of cardiovascular disease can vary depending on the specific type of cardiovascular disease. For example, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries) causes coronary artery disease and peripheral artery disease. Coronary artery disease, scarring of the heart muscle, genetic problems or medications can cause arrhythmias. Aging, infections and rheumatic disease can cause valve disease.

What are the cardiovascular disease risk factors?

You may be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease if you have risk factors such as:

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Heart disease symptoms can vary depending on the cause.

Symptoms of abnormal heart rhythms may include:

Symptoms of heart valve disease may include:

Symptoms of blockages in the blood vessels in your heart, other organs or throughout your body may include:

  • Pain in your chest or upper body.
  • Neck pain.
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Dizziness.

Symptoms of heart pumping difficulties include:

  • Swelling in your lower body.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Shortness of breath.

Heart problems you’re born with may have symptoms that include:

  • Heart murmur.
  • Inability to handle exercise.
  • Shortness of breath.

Problems with your heart’s lining may give you symptoms that include:

  • Chest pain, typically sharp and worse with deep breathing.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Swelling in your lower body.

It’s important to note that women or older adults may have more subtle symptoms, but still have serious cardiovascular disease.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is cardiovascular disease diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms, personal health and family health history. They may also order tests to help diagnose cardiovascular disease, as appropriate.

What tests might I have for heart disease?

Some common tests to diagnose cardiovascular disease include:

  • Blood work measures substances in blood that indicate cardiovascular health, such as cholesterol and specific proteins.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) records the electrical activity in your heart.
  • Ambulatory monitoring uses wearable devices that track your heart rhythm and rates.
  • Echocardiogram uses sound waves to create an image of your heartbeat and blood flow.
  • Cardiac CT uses X-rays to create images of your heart and blood vessels.
  • Cardiac MRI uses magnets and radio waves to create images of your heart.
  • Stress tests use different ways to stress the heart in a controlled way (exercise or medications) to determine how your heart responds through EKGs and/or images.
  • Cardiac catheterization uses a catheter (thin, hollow tube) to measure pressure and blood flow in your heart.

Management and Treatment

How is cardiovascular disease treated?

Treatment plans can vary and depend on the symptoms and the type of cardiovascular disease you have. Cardiovascular disease treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Examples include making changes to your diet, increasing your aerobic activity and quitting smoking.
  • Medications: Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to control cardiovascular disease. Medication type will depend on what kind of cardiovascular disease you have.
  • Procedures or surgeries: If medications are not enough to manage your cardiovascular disease, your healthcare provider may use certain procedures or surgeries to treat your cardiovascular disease. Examples include stents in the heart or leg arteries, minimally invasive heart surgery, open-heart surgery, ablations, cardioversion.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation: You may need a monitored exercise program to help your heart get stronger.
  • Active surveillance: You may need careful monitoring over time without medications or procedures/surgeries.

Will cardiac rehabilitation improve my treatment?

Cardiac rehabilitation helps your heart regain strength. It provides extra support for changing your lifestyle. It involves nutritional counseling and monitored exercise.

Your healthcare provider may recommend cardiac rehab if you need heart surgery. You also may qualify for rehab if you are recovering from a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiac rehabilitation may also be a good choice if you have trouble sticking to your cardiovascular disease treatment plan on your own. Ask your provider if you qualify for a hospital-based program. They may recommend another safe, healthy program for you.


How can I prevent heart disease?

You can't prevent some types of cardiovascular disease, such as congenital heart disease. But lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of many types of cardiovascular disease.

You can reduce your cardiovascular risks by:

  • Avoiding all tobacco products.
  • Managing other health conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Eating a diet low in saturated fat and sodium.
  • Exercising at least 30 to 60 minutes per day on most days.
  • Reducing and managing stress.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for people with cardiovascular disease?

Many people enjoy a high quality of life and can manage their cardiovascular disease with the help of their healthcare team. Your chances for a positive outcome are higher if you engage in your healthcare and follow the treatment plan that you and your healthcare provider designed. It’s important to take medications exactly as prescribed.

Does cardiovascular disease increase my risk of other conditions?

Untreated cardiovascular disease can lead to serious complications.

If you have cardiovascular disease, you may have a higher risk of:

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Cardiovascular disease is often easier to treat when healthcare providers catch it early. If you have any signs of cardiovascular disease, you should see your healthcare provider right away.

Call 911 or seek emergency medical attention if you experience sudden:

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that affect your heart and blood vessels. Without appropriate treatment, cardiovascular disease can lead to heart attacks or strokes. You can make lifestyle changes or take medications to manage cardiovascular disease. Earlier diagnosis can help with effective treatment. Many people live a full and active life with a cardiovascular disease.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/05/2021.


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