allDiseases & Conditions

What Causes Heart Disease?

heart-pictureThere are many kinds of heart disease, as you may have learned from my last article. Different forms of the disease may be present, as many of the causes of over-lapping. Here’s a look at the causes.

Coronary or Ischemic Heart Disease

The coronary or ischemic type is usually caused by atherosclerosis, the causes of which are described in some detail below. It is the most common type of heart disease.


Cardiomyopathy may be intrinsic, which is defined as weakness in the heart’s muscle not due to an identifiable external cause. The condition may be genetic, acquired or a combination.

Acquired cardiomyopathy may be caused by stress. One type is referred to as broken heart syndrome, because it can occur after the death of a loved one or after a breakup.

Another type of cardiomyopathy is caused by a worm. The worm causes thickening or fibrosis of portions of the heart.

The extrinsic type is an ischemic disease which is caused by poor oxygen supply to the heart’s muscle. Extrinsic cardiomyopathy can be caused by metabolic disorders, inflammation, endocrine disorders, diabetes or hyperthyroidism, exposure to toxins, alcohol abuse, nutritional deficiencies, muscular dystrophy or atherosclerosis.

Hypertensive Heart Disease

The hypertensive type is caused by hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension may be caused by another disease, such as hyperthyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome. It can also be caused by obesity, sleep apnea, pregnancy, prescription medications, illicit drugs, herbal remedies and even excessive liquorish consumption.

Primary hypertension is the more common type and is caused by a combination of genetic variations, lifestyle and diet.

Heart failure or Congestive Cardiac Failure

The most common causes of heart failure include ischemic heart disease, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and valvular diseases. Obstructive sleep apnea is another cause that has been identified, although the cause of obstructive sleep apnea may be obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure. Rarely, the condition is caused by a viral infection such as HIV, diseases of connective tissues such as lupus, arrhythmias, alcohol abuse, drug abuse or prescription drugs.

Cor Pulmonale, in which only the heart’s right vertical becomes enlarged and inefficient, may be caused by high blood pressure in the longs, COPD, pulmonary embolism, trauma, surgery, obstructive sleep apnea, altitude sickness, sickle cell anemia, birth defect or pneumonia.


Dysrhythmias may be caused by drugs, cigarette smoking or caffeine and are not always life threatening. Sometimes, however, a sudden change in heart rhythm brings on a cardiac arrest.

Endocarditis, Cardiomegaly and Myocarditis

Endocarditis may be caused by infection such as rheumatic fever or certain kinds of cancer. Cardiomegaly may be caused by hypothyroidism, obesity, dwarfism, polycystic ovarian syndrome, radiation exposure, sickle-cell disease, tumors or drugs.

Myocarditis may be caused by viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infections. It can occur as a result of drug use or rejection of a heart transplant. Other causes include electric shop, radiation, allergic reaction, toxins, heavy metals and drugs.

Valvular Heart Diseases

Valvular heart diseases may be caused by birth defects, rheumatic fever, age-related calcification, hypertension, diabetes, infection, trauma or illness.

Cerebrovascular Disease; Embolisms/Aneurisms

Cerebrovascular diseases are caused by embolisms or aneurisms. High blood pressure, smoking, obesity and diabetes are the main causes, but embolisms and blood clots sometimes occur for no identifiable reason.

Peripheral Arterial Disease

The most common cause of peripheral artery disease it type II diabetes. Smoking cigarettes, high LDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and obesity are other causes.


Atherosclerosis is believed to be caused by the immune system’s response to LDL cholesterol molecules sticking to the walls of the vessels. Once the LDL molecules are inside the vessel wall, they may be oxidized by free radicals. This makes the molecules toxic to the cells. The body responds as it would to other toxins or infectious agents. A cascade of immune system responses, primarily the release of inflammatory molecules, occurs and these can cause swelling in the arterial walls. Eventually, a hard cover may form over the site or the vessel wall may rupture.

There are other theories concerning the underlying cause of atherosclerosis. Viral infections and vitamin C deficiency are among the interesting theories. What we know for sure is that most people have some degree of atherosclerosis. The fatty yellow streaks may even be present in childhood.