Cardiovascular Disease
(CVD, Heart Disease)

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What is cardiovascular disease?

The heart is like any other muscle in body. It needs an adequate blood supply to provide oxygen to allow the muscle to contract and pump. Not only does the heart pump blood to the rest of the body, it also pumps blood to itself via the coronary arteries. These arteries originate from the base of the aorta (the major blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart) and then branch out along the surface of the heart.

Picture of a cross section of the heart.
Picture of a cross section of the heart.

When one or more coronary arteries narrow, it may make it difficult for adequate blood to reach the heart, especially during exercise. This can cause the heart muscle to ache like any other muscle in the body. Should the arteries continue to narrow, it may take less activity to stress the heart and provoke symptoms. The classic symptoms of chest pain or pressure and shortness of breath due to cardiovascular or coronary artery disease are called angina.

Should one of the coronary arteries become completely blocked -- usually due to a plaque that ruptures and causes a blood clot to form -- blood supply to part of the heart may be lost. This causes a piece of heart muscle to die. This is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction (myo=muscle + cardia=heart + infarction= tissue death).

Cardiovascular disease, for this article, will be limited to describing the spectrum of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries that ranges from minimal blockage that may produce no symptoms to complete obstruction that presents as a myocardial infarction. Other topics, such as myocarditis, heart valve problems, and congenital heart defects will not be covered.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/11/2016


Heart Disease Pictures Slideshow: Coronary Artery Disease

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Heart Disease Symptoms and Signs

The term heart disease is very broad and includes a number of conditions, ranging from congenital (inborn) abnormalities of the heart to coronary artery disease caused by atherosclerosis.