Heart disease can refer to a wide variety of chronic conditions, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias and congenital heart defects, according to Mayo Clinic. Cardiovascular disease usually includes heart conditions that involve the narrowing or blocking of the blood vessels and significantly increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
As of 2015, coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in Americans, states WebMD. It occurs through the buildup of plaque and fatty acids in the blood vessels, known as atherosclerosis. Cholesterol builds up on the inner blood vessel walls and collects other substances, such as calcium, inflammatory cells and lipoproteins, as they pass through. As this buildup thickens, the passageway narrows and restricts proper blood flow to the heart. Clotting may occur, which may completely restrict blood flow and cause heart attack. If clotting occurs in the brain, it may cause a stroke.
Symptoms of heart disease include fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and angina, or chest pain, states Mayo Clinic. Pain in the upper abdomen, back, throat and jaw may occur, as well as weakness, pain, numbness or a cold sensation in the arms and legs. Atherosclerosis is typically associated with lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet, smoking, a lack of regular exercise and obesity. Other risk factors include a family history of the condition and chronic stress.