Join or Renew and Choose Your Gift
- Offer ends Dec. 17
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
When a physician first diagnoses you or a loved one with heart disease, you may feel overwhelmed and have a lot of questions. You may be confused by terms your doctor uses like “congestive,” “pulmonary,” or “cyanotic.” What’s the difference? Heart disease is heart disease, right?
All types of heart disease share common traits, but they also have key differences that may determine their progression and treatment. Becoming familiar with the type of heart disease you face can help you and your loved ones to better understand it and feel more in control of your next steps.
Angina causes pain or tightness in the chest area, creating a sort of “squeezing” sensation that sometimes resembles indigestion. This condition is not a disease in itself. It’s most often a symptom of coronary heart disease, in which the arteries supplying blood to the heart narrow and stiffen. Angina can also signify coronary microvascular disease, which is heart disease affecting smaller coronary arteries.
There are various types of angina, which all signal some sort of heart disease and should be checked out by your doctor.
Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease or heart defects are heart abnormalities present at birth. They occur while the fetus is developing in the uterus and may be caused by viral infections, medications, chemicals, alcohol, or other unknown causes.
These abnormalities may affect various parts of the heart, including the septum, valves, blood vessels, aorta, chambers, and more. Whatever the defect is, it may disrupt proper blood flow, causing symptoms like:
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the defect but typically involves surgery.
Congestive Heart Failure
This condition is more common in older people and occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood to the rest of the body like it should. Doctors describe it as losing “pumping capacity.” The condition usually results from damage caused by a heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer treatments, or other health issues and may result in excess fluid backing up into the lungs and other tissues. Congestive heart failure ranges from mild to severe, with symptoms such as:
Treatment involves medications, and other medical procedures and surgery for more severe cases.
Coronary Heart Disease
This type is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become narrowed and hardened due to the buildup of plaque, known as “atherosclerosis.” Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women.
Treatment depends on severity and involves keeping high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol under control, adopting lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, and in some cases, surgery options like angioplasty and bypass surgery.
Coronary Microvascular Disease
Also called MVD, small vessel disease, or cardiac syndrome X, this disease affects the heart’s tiny arteries. It damages the lining in the artery walls and causes them to narrow, increasing your risk for heart attack and heart failure. Symptoms include chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, and fatigue. Treatments mostly involve medications.
Cyanotic Heart Disease
This is a type of congenital heart defect that results in low blood oxygen levels throughout the body. It may be caused by a number of other heart defects like valve defects, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, Tetralogy of Fallot, or by infections or medications used during pregnancy. Symptoms may include:
Treatments typically involve surgery to repair the defect.
Hypertensive Heart Disease
Several heart problems may occur as a result of high blood pressure or “hypertension.” These problems are referred to collectively as “hypertensive heart disease.” Related problems may include:
Ischaemic Heart Disease
The word “ischaemic” means a “reduced blood supply.” Ischaemic heart disease is any heart disease that results in a reduced blood supply to the heart. Though there may be many causes, most incidences of this disease may be attributed to atherosclerosis, a narrowing of the arteries that supply the heart with blood. This disease is also referred to as coronary artery disease.
Inflammatory Heart Disease
This disease involves inflammation of the heart muscles or the surrounding tissues, which may be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, or by immune diseases. Symptoms usually include:
Those most at risk include individuals who had a congenital birth defect or previous injury to the heart, intravenous drug users, and those with an artificial heart valve. Treatment depends on the extent of the damage to the heart muscle and typically involves medications or surgery.
Organic Heart Disease
This is an overall term that refers to any type of heart disease where the heart itself is affected, and doesn’t function as it should. This is due to a physiological problem, such as a deformity or inflammation.
Pulmonary Heart Disease
Also called “right-sided heart failure,” pulmonary heart disease occurs when a disease of the lungs affects the heart. Blood flow to the lungs may then slow down or become blocked, increasing blood pressure in the lungs. As a result, the right side of the heart has to work harder, which can lead to damage to the heart muscle itself.
Congestive heart failure may result. Pulmonary heart disease may be caused when a pulmonary artery becomes blocked or by respiratory diseases like emphysema. Treatments may involve medications, vasodilators, and oxygen therapy.
Structural Heart Disease
This term describes any condition that affects the structure of the heart itself. Usually, it refers to congenital heart defects, but it can also include abnormalities in the heart valves and vessels that develop later in life due to aging or disease.
Written by: Colleen Story
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members save on purchases from The Popcorn Factory®.
Members save from top retailers online at Everyday Savings Center powered by NextJump.
Members save 10% on all Amazon Kindle e-readers and the Kindle Fire HD tablet.
Get the most out of your AARP membership – opt-in to receive AARP emails today!
Register at a location near you to keep your driving skills sharp.
Find opportunities to volunteer in your neighborhood.
NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon teams up with AARP's Foundation.
AARP Foundation Prepaid MasterCard brought to you by Green Dot.
Nothing has been viewed