What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a very general term that refers to a number of issues that affect the heart. Most commonly, when people talk about heart disease, they are referring to any condition that involves narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the heart. Other terms that are often used include cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease, ischemic heart disease, or atherosclerotic heart disease. This type of heart disease accumulates over many years and is typically not due to a single event.


Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply the heart. Plaques form when cholesterol and fat get deposited on the inside of the blood vessel walls. These plaques cause the arteries to get narrower, reducing blood flow to the heart. This can be a cause of chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and other symptoms. Atherosclerotic plaques are also at risk of rupturing, which is when they break open, potentially blocking the artery and causing a blood clot to form. When this happens, the blood supply is compromised and an ischemic event occurs (a term for when the heart does not get enough oxygen). An example of an ischemic event is a heart attack.

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