Coronary Heart Disease: Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease (CAD), is a condition involving narrowing of the coronary arteries (the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle). This narrowing is due to a build up of cholesterol, fat and other substances in the form of a plaque inside the walls of the arteries. Because the arteries are narrowed, blood flow to the heart can be significantly reduced or even stopped. This reduction of blood flow can cause angina (chest pain) and can lead to a heart attack if the blockage is severe. Despite many medical advances in the treatment of CHD, the condition is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States. In 2009, almost 788,000 individuals died of CHD.

There are a number of risk factors for CHD. Some of them, including age, gender, family history, genetics, and race cannot be changed. However, there are several risk factors that can be modified and improved over time. These include high blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, physical inactivity, obesity and stress. The menu on the left links to several pages with information on healthy lifestyles that can improve or prevent these risk factors.

Heart Failure: Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart has difficulty pumping enough blood for the body’s oxygen needs. In some cases, there can be a build up of blood in areas of the body including the feet, ankles, legs, liver, abdomen, and neck veins. In other cases, fatigue and shortness of breath can occur. Though the heart is still working in individuals with heart failure, the condition is serious and requires treatment secondary to undue stress on the heart. Heart failure is usually caused by other diseases that damage the heart, such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

The most common cause of heart failure is coronary heart disease. Heart failure can also be caused by an infection that weakens the heart muscle. Other heart problems that may cause heart failure are heart attack, heart valve disease, and some types of arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms).

Heart Valve Disease: The heart has four valves that work together to ensure that blood flows the right direction and at the right time, through the heart and to the rest of the body. Healthy heart valves are thin and flexible and are able to open fully and shut tightly at specific times during each heart beat. There are several types of heart valve disease. Though valve disease is not always serious and may not require treatment, it may sometimes require surgery. The two main categories of heart valve disease are stenosis and insufficiency.

Stenosis: Stenosis is a narrowing of a heart valve due to the thickening and stiffening of the valve leaflets and sometimes to the accumulation of calcium on the leaflets. The hardening prevents the valve from opening completely reducing the area which blood can flow through. This increases the pressure on the valve and causes the heart to work harder in order to meet the body’s oxygen needs.

Insufficiency: Insufficiency occurs when the valve leaflets do not seal properly as the valve closes. The poor seal can allow blood to leak backward through the valve. This is called regurgitation. One type of insufficiency, and one of the main causes of regurgitation is mitral valve prolapse.

Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP): The mitral valve is the valve that connects the left atrium with the left ventricle. The left ventricle is a critical part of the heart because it pumps blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. Mitral valve prolapse is a condition in which the mitral valve becomes “floppy”, bulges backward into the atrium, and does not close completely. MVP can cause regurgitation and also increases the risk of endocarditis (bacterial infection of the heart) and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). However, most individuals with MVP do not have symptoms and the condition does not require treatment. In some cases, medication is needed to treat the symptoms of MVP. In a very small number of cases, the condition requires surgery to repair or replace the valve.

Heart valve disease may be congenital (present from birth). It may also be caused by infections such as rheumatic fever and endocarditis (infection of the inner lining of the heart). Other problems, such as stretching or tearing of the muscles connected to the heart valve, and stiffening or hardening of the valves, can cause the valves to work improperly.