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What is heart disease?
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle.

Key takeaways

  • Heart disease is a group of conditions that includes coronary heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure and valve disease. 
  • Heart disease is a major cause of health problems and death in Australia, but it’s often preventable. 
  • Many types of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices, medications and / or surgery. 
5 min read
Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. It includes:
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Heart failure 
  • Valve disease  
  • Arrhythmias (rhythm disorders)

Heart disease can have many causes. It occurs earlier and more frequently in men than women, and within certain ethnic groups. You may be born with heart disease, or have an increased risk of developing it due to your genetics.

Impact of heart disease

While heart disease death rates have fallen dramatically in Australia in the last 10 years, it’s still the leading cause of death. Heart disease can also lead to chronic health problems that require ongoing or life-long care.

However, many incidences of heart disease are preventable. That’s because the risk factors related to many heart disease conditions are related to your lifestyle choices, such as what you eat, how much you exercise and whether or not you smoke.

How can you prevent heart disease?

In many cases, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease by improving your lifestyle choices. Here are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk: 

  • Eat well. See the Heart Foundation’s healthy eating tips, recipes and information to help protect your heart
  • Exercise regularly. Learn more about how much exercise you need, how to build more activity into your day-to-day life and more
  • Stop smoking. Find out more about smoking and your heart
  • See your doctor regularly. This is particularly important if you have conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, it can still be managed. With the right support, lifestyle changes and treatment, you can go on to live a full and active life.

Know your risks of heart disease

Heart disease overview

Heart attack vs cardiac arrest

People often confuse the two, but they’re not the same thing. 

 

 Heart attackCardiac arrest
 
  • This a circulatory problem 
  • The heart will usually keep beating 
  • The person will usually be conscious and breathing, complaining of the warning signs 
  • Call Triple Zero (000) if symptoms persist for more than 10 minutes 
  • This is an electrical problem 
  • The heart will stop beating 
  • The person will be unconscious and not breathing 
  • Call, Push, Shock Call Triple Zero (000) and start chest compression and find a defibrillator 

Heart disease FAQs

What’s the difference between heart disease and cardiovascular disease? 

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that includes heart disease, stroke and blood vessel disease. Heart disease is a category of cardiovascular disease and refers to a variety of conditions that affect the heart’s structure and function.

Can heart disease run in the family? 

Yes. Having a family history of heart disease can increase your risk of developing. However, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk, and protect your heart from heart disease.  

Learn more about family history and heart disease.

Can you cure heart disease? 

While many cases of heart disease can be prevented, most can’t be cured. In many cases, you can manage heart disease and live well.  

Some heart conditions, such as arrhythmias and valve disorders, can be responsive to treatment and not require further management. However, you still need to have regular check-ups to monitor your condition. 

On the other hand, coronary artery disease and heart failure are chronic diseases that you’ll need to manage for the rest of your life.

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