According to the World Health Organisation, ischaemic heart disease, one of many forms of cardiovascular disease, is the leading cause of death globally. But what is heart disease? The term applies to any number of adverse conditions that impair cardiovascular function. Before we take a look at the four most common types of heart disease, we’ll explain what causes it.
Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health lists two main causes of heart disease: atherosclerosis and endothelial dysfunction. In the former, cholesterol-filled plaque begins to build up in arteries, gradually narrowing them over time, leading to potentially life-threating blood clots. In the latter, certain lifestyle factors or precursors to heart disease, like high blood pressure, cause the lining of the arteries to dysfunction. This, too, leads to atherosclerosis.
Coronary Heart Disease
The single most common form of heart disease, and the kind responsible for most heart attacks and strokes, is known as coronary heart disease (CHD). This type of heart disease arises from a narrowing of the arteries that supply your heart with blood or, alternatively, from the same kind of narrowing, but of other blood vessels in the body, which ultimately affect blood flow to the heart. Oftentimes, restricted blood flow to the heart will manifest as chest pain, also known as angina, which worsens with physical activity and eases with rest.
Another, though quite different, form of heart disease is known as arrhythmia. Arrhythmia itself is a class of heart disease caused by abnormal electrical impulses that disrupt the heart's regular beating. This can result in it beating too slowly, too quickly or erratically. Over time such irregular beating can take its toll on the heart, and may sometimes result in sudden death.
Structural heart disease
In addition to functional impediments, there are also structural impediments that can negatively impact cardiovascular health. These are known collectively as structural heart disease, which includes heart valve disease. In such instances, damage to or abnormalities related to the walls, valves, surrounding tissues or blood vessels of the heart result in a weakened heart muscle.
This particular form of heart disease often presents as a late-stage complication to any of the types of heart diseases listed above, and more. Generally, it refers to the heart's inability to function properly following significant damage or weakening, which usually results from a heart attack or chronic high blood pressure.
The good news as always is that heart disease, where it isn’t the result of birth defects or heritable conditions, does not need to be a given, as long as a you make healthy lifestyle choices. Leading a healthy lifestyle entails plenty of sleep, exercise, eating a balanced diet of whole foods, and avoiding processed foods, smoking, and limiting stress.