When Your Heart Has Problems

Any disease of the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular) is called cardiovascular disease (CVD). Many of these problems have similar names, like heart failure and heart attack, bradycardia and tachycardia. It can be hard to keep them all straight. This section will help you sort out the differences among the most common types of cardiovascular disease.

Illustration of Heart with Problems


Aging of the heart muscle can also lead to heart disease. Of 81 million American adults with one or more types of cardiovascular disease, 38 million are estimated to be 60 years old or older.1


Types of Cardiovascular Disease


What happens?

What does it look like?

Problems with the Heart's Arteries

Coronary artery disease (CAD) or heart disease

Fatty plaque builds up in one or more coronary arteries, so less blood flows through to the heart muscle. CAD increases your risk for a heart attack.

 Coronary Heart Disease Still Image

Heart attack

A part of the heart muscle dies or is permanently damaged because it didn't get enough blood. Once your heart is damaged, you're at higher risk for heart failure and sudden cardiac death (SCD).

 Heart Attack Still Image

Problems with the Heart's Electrical System

Atrial arrhythmias

The heartbeats from the atrium are fast and abnormal, with rates up to 4 times that of a normal heart rate. Atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter produce electrical signals that start in the atrium other than the SA node. Other atrial arrhythmias are confused by separate electrical pathways on their way to the ventricles.

 AFib Still Image


The heart beats more slowly than normal – usually less than 60 beats per minute. As a result, your heart may not pump enough blood to meet your body's needs, and you may feel tired or dizzy.

 Heart Animation Still Image

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)

The heart develops a lethal rhythm and stops beating and pumping blood. SCA is sudden and unexpected and a medical emergency that will end in death if not treated quickly.

 Heart Animation Still Image


The heart beats more quickly than normal – usually more than 100 beats per minute. As a result, your heart may not pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. If left untreated, some types of tachycardia can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD).

 Heart Animation Still Image

Problems with the Heart's Pumping Ability

Heart failure

The heart doesn't work as well as it should, so it is unable to pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. Heart failure is a serious problem that develops gradually over time in a damaged heart—sometimes over years.

 Heart Failure Still Image

Problems with the Arteries Outside the Heart

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

Fatty plaque builds up in an artery outside your heart, so less blood flows through to your body. Depending on which artery is blocked, this can cause minor symptoms, like numbness, or a major problem, like a stroke.

 Peripheral Vascular Disease Still Image

Next: Atrial Arrhythmias >>



Note: Individual symptoms, situations, and circumstances may vary. Please consult your physician or qualified healthcare provider regarding your condition and appropriate medical treatment. The information provided is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for professional medical advice.

1. American Heart Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2010 Update. Circulation.2010;121:e1-e170.

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