Heart disease is any situation where the cardiac muscle (the heart) is not working properly. There are many reasons why this may occur, but for our purposes we will focus on what is commonly referred to as coronary artery disease. This is sometimes also called cardiovascular disease, arteriosclerosis, or atherosclerosis.
The actual problem isn't really in the heart, but rather in the coronary arteries. However, it is the heart that is affected. The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that supply the cardiac muscle with blood and oxygen. Although there is a lot of blood being pumped through the heart, it is the coronary arteries that feed the cardiac muscle with nutrients. When these coronary arteries become clogged with plaque their opening narrows resulting in decreased blood getting through to the cardiac muscle. As a result, the cardiac muscle can not work properly which in turn results in poor blood flow to the entire body.
Causes of Heart Disease
The causes of heart disease are quite complex, but it basically has to do with plaque building up inside the walls of the arteries preventing adequate blood from getting through. This plaque builds up because of many reasons which are called risk factors. These are things that we do, or do not do, over many years, that can lead to the increased risk of heart disease.
The risk factors which we have control over include things like smoking, exercising, obesity, poor eating habits, and high blood pressure (also called hypertension).
The risk factors which we do not have control over include things like gender, age, diabetes, and genetics/heredity.
Prevention of Heart Disease
Preventing heart disease involves modifying the risk factors so coronary artery disease remains at a minimum, as well as getting regular check-ups to monitor any conditions that may develop. Although most of us know the risk factors, we wait until we've developed the disease before we take it seriously. By then it is often too late or we need to resort to invasive surgical techniques to try and minimize the damage.
This is also known as myocardial infarction and it is a situation where a coronary artery is totally blocked and the cardiac muscle is not getting enough blood. It is a very serious situation and one which can result in death very quickly. In fact, a heart attack is the number one cause of death in adults in North America.
This is a condition where the coronary arteries are only partially blocked. But under physical or emotional stress the heart can't get enough blood and oxygen resulting in chest pain. Read more about angina.