Cardiac Conditions & Diseases

A cardiac condition or disease is one that affects the heart. For more information on conditions that affect the arteries and/or veins, excluding those in the heart, visit our Vascular Services page. Below you will find some of the most common cardiac conditions, which require medical attention.

Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI)
An acute myocardial infarction (AMI) is commonly called a heart attack. It occurs when one or more parts of the heart muscle have a lack of oxygen caused by blocked blood flow to the heart. The blockage may result from atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque composed of fat deposits or cholesterol).  Plaque breaks down and eventually a blood clot forms. It is this clot that causes a heart attack. A heart attack may result in damage or even death of the heart muscle cells. This may cause the heart to function improperly.

Angina Pectoris
Angina is recurring chest pain or discomfort that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood and oxygen. Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease (CHD), which occurs when arteries that carry blood to the heart become narrowed and blocked due to plaque build up or a blood clot.

The following are the most common symptoms of angina:

  • A pressing, squeezing or crushing pain, usually in the chest under the breast bone. It may also occur in the upper back, both arms, neck or ear lobes. 
  • Pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck and/or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness and/or fatigue

Individual’s may experience different symptoms. The chest pain associated with angina usually begins with physical activity. Other triggers include emotional stress, extreme cold and heat, heavy meals, excessive alcohol intake and cigarette smoking. Angina chest pain is usually relieved within a few minutes by resting or by taking prescribed cardiac medications, such as nitroglycerin.

Atrial Fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal rhythm of the heart that causes it to beat less effectively. In atrial fibrillation, the electrical signals in the atria (the two upper chambers of the heart) fire very fast and in an uncontrolled manner. The atria then quiver instead of contracting normally, and the electrical signals arrive in the ventricles (the two lower chambers of the heart) in an irregular fashion. When the atria do not contract effectively, the blood may pool or clot. If the clot becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke may occur.

Treatment usually focuses on either controlling the heart rate or controlling the heart rhythm.

A Cardiomyopathy affects the heart muscle, causing the heart to lose its ability to pump blood effectively. Sometimes the heart rhythm becomes disturbed and irregular heartbeats may occur. The cause may never be found, but cardiomyopathy may be caused by viral infections, certain medications and nutritional deficiencies.

Cardiomyopathy can and often occurs in the young. The condition tends to be progressive and sometimes worsens fairly quickly. There are different types of cardiomyopathy. You health care provider will discuss the type you have and recommended treatment options.

Coronary Artery Disease (Atherosclerosis)
Coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis is characterized by the build up of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the coronary arteries. The fatty deposits continue to thicken and enlarge throughout a person’s life. Called atherosclerosis, this thickening narrows the arteries and can decrease or block blood flow to the heart. When a clot forms, a heart attack may occur.

Heart Disease
Heart disease is a broad term used to describe a range of diseases that affect the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. There are many types of heart disease, including atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries often caused by plaque buildup), arrhythmia (abnormalities with the rhythm), infections and congenital (present at birth) defects. When blood vessels to the heart become blocked or narrowed, as in the case of atherosclerosis, a heart attack (myocardial infarction) may occur.

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family history
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • High stress levels

Heart disease symptoms vary, depending on what type of disease is present. The following is a partial list:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in arms or legs
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting
  • Fluttering, racing or slow heartbeat
  • Murmur
  • Swelling of legs, ankles and feet

Although women may suffer from some of the same symptoms as are listed above when havign a heart attack, they can also present with:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Pressure, especially jaw, back or stomach pain

Anyone experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting should seek immediate emergency medical care.

Heart Failure
Also called congestive heart failure, this is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body’s organs. The heart continues to pump blood, but not as efficiently as it should.

The causes of heart failure include:

  • Heart valve disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Infections of the heart
  • Previous heart attacks that have damaged the heart muscle
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Arrhythmias
  • Congenital (present at birth) heart defects

Because heart failure interferes with the kidneys’ normal function of getting rid of excess sodium and waste products from the body, the body retains more fluid. This may cause swelling of the ankles and legs.

Other symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal pain

Valve Disease
The heart consists of four chambers — two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). Before blood is pumped from each chamber, it passes through a valve. The valves prevent the backward flow of blood. The four heart valves are: tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral and aortic.

There are two main types of valve problems — leakage and narrowing. When heart valves fail to open and close properly, the heart’s ability to pump blood adequately can be seriously affected.