Heart Disease

Heart disease includes many diseases that affect your heart, but coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common and familiar one. CAD can create a waxy buildup in your heart’s arteries that can cause a heart attack. Healthy habits, medicines and procedures can prevent or treat CAD and other heart diseases.


Common heart disease symptoms, like chest pain and shortness of breath.
Common heart disease symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness and exhaustion.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a collection of issues that can affect your heart. When people think about heart disease, they often think of the most common type — coronary artery disease (CAD). However, you can have trouble with different parts of your heart, such as your heart muscle, valves or electrical system.

Types of heart disease

How common is heart disease?

Heart disease kills more people in the United States than any other disease. In 2020, heart disease caused 1 in 5 deaths. That’s nearly 700,000 people. Coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease, caused about 380,000 of those deaths.

Who does heart disease affect?

Heart disease affects people from most ethnic backgrounds, regardless of sex. Heart disease is the No.1 cause of death in the U.S.

How does heart disease affect my body?

When your heart isn’t working well, it has trouble sending enough blood to your body. Your blood brings oxygen and nutrients to your body’s organs, tissues and cells. If they can’t get what they need, it’s harder for them to function. In a way, your heart delivers the fuel that keeps your body’s systems running. If there’s a problem with delivering that fuel, it affects everything your body’s systems do.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the early warning signs of heart disease?

Early warning signs of heart disease include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Swelling in your legs.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness, fainting unexpectedly or near-fainting repeatedly.

What are the symptoms?

You can have different symptoms of heart disease depending on what’s wrong.

Symptoms of abnormal heart rhythms

  • Pounding or racing heart (palpitations).
  • Chest pain.
  • Sweating.
  • Lightheadedness.
  • Shortness of breath.

Symptoms of heart valve disease

  • Dizziness.
  • Tiredness.
  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.

Symptoms of blockages in your heart’s blood vessels

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

Symptoms of heart pumping difficulties

  • Swelling in your lower body.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Dizziness or sudden unexplained loss of consciousness.

Symptoms of heart problems you’re born with

  • Tiredness.
  • Inability to handle exercise.
  • Shortness of breath.

Symptoms of problems with your pericardium

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

What causes heart disease?

Different heart issues have different causes. When plaque (made up of mostly cholesterol) builds up in your heart’s arteries (atherosclerosis), you can get coronary artery disease.

Arrhythmia causes

  • Heart muscle scarring.
  • Coronary artery disease.
  • Genetic issues.
  • Medications.
  • Problems with kidney function.
  • Severe infections outside of your heart.
  • Thyroid problems.

Heart valve disease causes

  • Infections.
  • Rheumatic disease.
  • Aging.
  • Injury due to procedures.
  • Genetic diseases.
  • Heart attacks that involve the valve.

Cardiomyopathy causes

  • Certain diseases or infections.
  • Autoimmune diseases.
  • Heart attack.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Genetic causes.
  • Certain medications, such as specific kinds of chemotherapy.
  • Substance use, including alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine and others.

Heart failure causes

  • Injury or infection in your heart.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Heart valve issues (see above).
  • Abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Coronary artery disease and/or heart attacks.
  • Cardiomyopathies (see above).

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Tobacco product use.
  • Inactive lifestyle.
  • Heart disease in your family.
  • Type 2 diabetes.
  • Having excess weight or obesity.
  • Poor diet.
  • Substance use disorder.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is heart disease diagnosed?

A provider can make a heart disease diagnosis after:

  • Doing a physical exam.
  • Hearing about your symptoms.
  • Learning about your personal and family health history.
  • Running diagnostic tests.

What tests will be done to diagnose heart disease?

Tests to diagnose various types of heart disease include:

Management and Treatment

How is heart disease treated?

Depending on your heart issue, you may need to make changes to your daily life, take medication or have surgery.

Heart disease treatments may include:

  • Changing your lifestyle: This could consist of cutting saturated fats from your diet, stopping the use of tobacco products or starting a walking program.
  • Taking medicine: You can lower blood pressure and cholesterol with medicine. Also, certain medications can help with heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms. Taking these medications consistently as prescribed is vital.
  • Having surgeries or procedures: You may need open-heart surgery, minimally invasive surgery or an ablation. Other procedures include catheterization procedures, stent placement or cardioversion.
  • Taking part in a cardiac rehab program: This supervised exercise program can strengthen your heart.

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’re recovering from a heart attack or stroke.

Cardiac rehabilitation may also be a good choice if you have trouble sticking to your heart 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?

Heart disease prevention isn’t possible for congenital (at birth) heart disease. But you can lower your risk of other kinds of heart disease in these ways:

  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Manage your diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Get at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day for most of the week.
  • Decrease your stress level.
  • Eat foods low in salt and saturated fat (your healthcare provider can recommend heart-healthy diets that can help you).
  • Don’t use any tobacco products.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have heart disease?

Medications and/or procedures can help people who have various types of heart disease. Most types of heart disease are easier to treat if you get an early diagnosis instead of waiting for symptoms to get worse. Many people can live full lives when they follow their healthcare team’s treatment plan.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

If you have coronary artery disease (the most common kind of heart disease), you can improve your health by making changes to your daily life. This may include reducing how much salt and saturated fat you eat and increasing how much you exercise. In addition, a provider may recommend taking medicine to lower your cholesterol and/or blood pressure.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you have a family history of heart disease, you may want to ask your provider if you have other risk factors. If you do, you can make a plan to help prevent heart disease. Contact your provider if you have heart disease symptoms.

When should I go to the ER?

Call 911 if you suddenly experience these issues:

  • Chest pain, pressure, heaviness or discomfort.
  • Fainting.
  • Shortness of breath.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • What kind of heart disease do I have?
  • Is my family at risk for this type of disease?
  • What’s the best treatment for my situation?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your heart has an important job, so you don’t want to ignore warning signs of a heart issue. Many heart diseases develop over time. Identifying heart disease early gives you the best chance of managing it well. Talk with a healthcare provider about the best ways to prevent heart disease or keep it from getting worse.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/01/2022.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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