What is Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, with 19,766 deaths attributed to heart disease in Australia in 2013. Heart disease kills one Australian every 27 minutes.

Heart disease is an umbrella term for range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others.

The term ‘heart disease’ is often used interchangeably with the term ‘cardiovascular disease’. Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.

Keeping your heart healthy, whatever your age, is the most important thing you can do to help prevent and manage heart disease.

A number of conditions involve the heart or the circulation of blood through the blood vessels:

  • coronary heart disease
  • heart attack
  • heart failure
  • stroke
  • arrhythmias – abnormal heart beats
  • aneurysm – a bulge caused by weakening of the heart muscle or artery
  • septal defect – an abnormal opening between the left and right sides of the heart
  • peripheral vascular disease – a disease of the large blood vessels of the arms, legs, and feet
  • rheumatic heart disease – caused by rheumatic fever, and mainly affecting the heart valves
  • congenital heart disease – defects or malformations in the heart or blood vessels that occur before birth.

By improving your lifestyle, including your diet and level of fitness, you can minimise your risk of getting cardiovascular disease. Even if you have two or more risk factors, you can still make changes that will reduce your chances of developing heart problems.

However, several things are known to increase the risk of developing heart disease. People with two or more risk factors in their lives are much more likely to get heart disease than those with one or none.