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What Is Heart Disease?

Types of Cardiovascular Disease
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States. But what exactly is heart disease?

Also called cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease, "heart disease" is a broad term that refers to a number of health problems that reduce the ability of the heart and/or blood vessels to work properly. Because the heart is at the center of the cardiovascular system, pumping blood, oxygen and nutrients to all of the body's cells (via the blood vessels), any health problem that affects its ability to do that job is problematic. When certain health conditions make it harder for the heart or blood vessels to work properly, other vital organs (such as the brain or kidneys) suffer, too, as well as a person's quality of life, well-being and energy levels. Eventually, if heart disease gets bad enough, the heart or blood vessels stop working altogether, resulting in death.

There are many health problems that fall under the umbrella of heart disease, and each one affects the heart—and the body—differently. But they all have one thing in common: they disrupt the heart from doing its job as efficiently as possible. Some types of heart disease are congenital and cannot be prevented; many others are preventable and even reversible (or at least treatable) through medical and lifestyle interventions; the latter is what we'll focus on in this article.

Types of Heart Disease
Other types of cardiovascular disease include heart valve disease, congenital heart disease (a defect in the heart or blood vessels that occurs before birth), cardiomyopathies (heart muscle disease, such as an enlarged heart), pericarditis (a rare inflammation of the lining that surrounds the heart, usually caused by an infection), and aorta disease.

Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, it's important to learn how you can strengthen your heart and prevent heart disease through a variety of healthy lifestyle habits. Even people who already have heart disease can live long and healthy lives by incorporating many of the same heart-healthy habits and following the medical plan prescribed by their doctor.

Sources
Mayo Clinic. "Heart Disease," accessed March 2011. MayoClinic.com.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "Lower Heart Disease Risk: What Is Heart Disease?," accessed March 2011. nhlbiI.nih.gov.

The National Women's Health Information Center."Heart Disease: Frequently Asked Questions," accessed March 2011. WomensHealth.gov.

PubMed Health. "Stroke," accessed March 2011. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Web MD. "Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases," accessed March 2011. WebMD.com.

Web MD. "The Heart and Vascular Disease," accessed March 2011. WebMD.com