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Cardiovascular Diseases and Definitions

Acute Coronary Syndrome

Acute Coronary Syndrome is a general term that includes heart attack and unstable angina.


Angina, a symptom of Coronary Artery Disease, is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart muscle is not getting enough blood. Angina may feel like pressure or a squeezing pain in the chest. The pain may also occur in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back, and it may feel like indigestion. There are two forms of angina - stable or unstable. Stable angina happens during physical activity or under mental or emotional stress. Unstable angina is chest pain that occurs even while at rest, without apparent reason. This type of angina is a medical emergency.

Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection

Aortic aneurysm and dissection are conditions in which the aorta, the major artery that carries blood from the heart to the body, stretches (aneurysm) and ruptures (dissection). A rupture is a medical emergency.


Arrhythmias are irregular or abnormally fast or slow, heartbeats. Some arrhythmias are serious. One example is ventricular fibrillation. This type of arrhythmia causes a severely abnormal heart rhythm that leads to death unless treated right away with an electrical shock to the heart (called defibrillation). Other arrhythmias are less severe, but can develop into more serious conditions such as atrial fibrillation.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia that can cause rapid, irregular beating of the heart's upper chambers. Blood may pool and clot inside the heart, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.


Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle becomes enlarged or rigid. This can lead to inadequate heart pumping or other problems. Cardiomyopathy has many causes, including prior heart attacks and viral or bacterial infections.

Cerebrovascular Disease - Stroke

Cerebrovascular Disease, also known as a stroke or "brain attack," occurs when a blood vessel going to the brain is disrupted either by a blood clot or a ruptured vessel. This process is similar to that which occurs in a heart attack. Deprived of oxygen, the nerve cells in the affected area of the brain cannot function and often die. The parts of the body controlled by those cells are then unable to function. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. The major risk factors for stroke are high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and overweight/obesity.

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects are malformations of heart structures that are present at birth. They are the most common type of major birth defect. Examples include abnormal heart valves or holes in the heart's walls that divide the chambers. Congenital heart defects range from minor to severe.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

Coronary Artery Disease occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries). Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits, which can accumulate in your arteries. When this happens, your arteries can narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis. Plaque buildup can cause angina, the most common symptom of CAD. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle. This may lead to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart can't pump blood the way it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, can also develop. For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when plaque totally blocks an artery carrying blood to the heart. It also can happen if a plaque deposit breaks off and clots a coronary artery.

Heart Failure

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure or chronic heart failure, is a serious condition that occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. It does not mean that the heart has stopped. The only cure for heart failure is a heart transplant. However, heart failure can be managed with medication.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is sometime called the "silent killer" because it usually has no noticeable warning signs or symptoms until other serious problems arise. High blood pressure is a condition where the pressure of the blood in the arteries is too high. All persons, including children, can develop high blood pressure. High blood pressure for adults is defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mmHg or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or higher. Normal blood pressure is a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Peripheral arterial disease is the hardening of the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. PAD usually results from atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque and narrowing of the arteries. With this condition, blood flow and oxygen to the arm and leg muscles are low or even fully blocked. Signs and symptoms include leg pain, numbness, and swelling in the ankles and feet.

Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic heart disease is damage to the heart valves caused by a bacterial (streptococcal) infection called rheumatic fever.

Page last updated: May 13, 2021