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When the Heart Breaks: 10 Heart Problems Millions of Americans Face

Krista Giannak

Last updated: November 9, 2016 9:13 pm

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Heart disease and heart pain are quite common. Here are 10 heart problems that may affect you or someone you know.

1. Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most prevalent type of heart disease, can lead to other heart problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many heart problems begin with coronary heart disease, a condition that occurs when plaque builds up in arteries supplying blood to the heart and other parts of the body, narrowing the arterial walls. 1 This process is called atherosclerosis. Coronary artery disease may lead to a weakening of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure, arrhythmias, and heart pain, also known as angina, which is the most common symptom of CAD. 2

2. Angina: Chest and Heart Pain

According to WebMD and the CDC, people may mistake angina for indigestion. Angina patients may also feel the pain in their shoulders, arms, back, neck or jaw. 3 4 Unstable angina, or heart pain that occurs suddenly or persistently while at rest, is a medical emergency. 5

3. Arrhythmias: Heart Problems

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms. The heart may skip beats, or it may beat too slowly or too rapidly. Arrhythmias may also affect how well the heart pumps blood. 6

4. Heart Attack Symptoms

According to the AHA, when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the heart, a person experiences a heart attack. During a heart attack, some muscle tissue may die from lack of blood. Most people live through their first heart attack. 7

According to WebMD, some people experience no heart attack symptoms. 8 The CDC lists several heart attack symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Nausea or lightheadedness
  • Cold sweats
  • Shortness of breath 9

5. Heart Valve Conditions

According to the AHA, some people’s heart valves do not open or close properly, causing blood flow problems. For example, mitral valve prolapse occurs when the leaflets of the mitral valve bulge into the upper chambers of the heart. 10

 6. Atrial Fibrillation

According to WebMD, one type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation, or AFib. People with AFib may not have any symptoms, but most experience one or more. 11 Atrial fibrillation symptoms may include weakness or fatigue, a sudden pounding or racing of the heart, dizziness or lightheadedness, breathing difficulties, and chest pain or discomfort. 12 According to the CDC, atrial fibrillation may also cause a stroke and put patients at greater risk of a heart attack. 13

7. Congenital Heart Defects

Some children are born with congenital heart defects, although the defect may go undiagnosed. According to WebMD, children may experience symptoms, including trouble breathing or exercising, a bluish skin and nail tint called cyanosis, poor weight gain or feeding, and recurrent lung infections. 14 According to the CDC, examples of congenital defects include holes in heart chamber walls or abnormal heart valves. 15

8. Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection

The main artery that carries blood away from the heart is called the aorta. According to the CDC, a balloon-like bulge in the wall of the aorta is called an aortic aneurysm. 16   An aortic aneurysm can burst, causing a medical emergency. An aortic dissection occurs when the aorta tears, and is also an emergency. 17 Taking certain types of antibiotics may increase the risk of suffering the serious side effects of an aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection.

9. Heart Muscle Disease

Heart muscle disease, or cardiomyopathy, occurs when the heart muscle enlarges or stiffens. Heart muscle disease can lead to inadequate or weakened heart pumping. 18 The risk of cardiomyopathy increases with family history. Causes of cardiomyopathy include uncontrolled high blood pressure, prior heart attacks and infections, according to the CDC. 19

10. Heart Failure

According to the AHA, heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart has difficulty pumping blood, failing to meet the body’s tissues needs. 20 In congestive heart failure, fluid builds up in the person’s organs and extremities, according to the CDC. Medications and procedures may manage heart failure, but the only cure is a heart transplant. 21

Your Heart and Anticoagulant Risks

If you live with atrial fibrillation not caused by heart valve problems, your doctor may prescribe Xarelto in an effort to reduce the risk of blood clots. However, some people who take Xarelto experience serious complications, such as serious and fatal bleeding. 22 23

In 2013, the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a warning letter to Johnson & Johnson regarding one of its Xarelto advertisements. According to the letter, the ad “minimizes the risks associated with Xarelto and makes a misleading claim.” The letter mentions the “most common adverse reactions with Xarelto were bleeding complications.” 24

The Xarelto medication guide suggests possible warning signs or symptoms of bleeding, including:

  • Unusual or prolonged bleeding
  • Frequent nosebleeds or unusual bleeding from the gums
  • Pain or swelling or new drainage at the site of a wound
  • Urine that is red, pink, or brown
  • Bright red or black stool
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood 25

Learn more about Xarelto side effects and complications.

  1. “Coronary Artery Disease: Causes, Diagnosis & Prevention,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/coronary_ad.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  2. “Coronary Artery Disease: Causes, Diagnosis & Prevention,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/coronary_ad.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  3. “Heart Disease Symptoms & Signs of Heart Problems,” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-symptoms. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  4. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  5. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  6. “What Is Cardiovascular Disease?” The American Heart Association, Dec. 18, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  7. “What Is Cardiovascular Disease?” The American Heart Association, Dec. 18, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  8. “Heart Disease Symptoms & Signs of Heart Problems,” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-symptoms. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  9. “Heart Disease Facts & Statistics,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  10. “What Is Cardiovascular Disease?” The American Heart Association, Dec. 18, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  11. “Heart Disease Symptoms & Signs of Heart Problems,” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-symptoms?page=2. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  12. “Heart Disease Symptoms & Signs of Heart Problems,” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-symptoms?page=2. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  13. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  14. “Heart Disease Symptoms & Signs of Heart Problems,” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-symptoms?page=3. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  15. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  16. “Aortic Aneurysm Fact Sheet,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 22, 2014.   http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_aortic_aneurysm.htm.  (Accessed February 12, 2016).  

  17. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  18. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  19. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  20. “What Is Cardiovascular Disease?” The American Heart Association, Dec. 18, 2014. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  21. “Other Conditions Related to Heart Disease,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 10, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/other_conditions.htm. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  22. “Medication Guide Xarelto® (zah-REL-toe) (rivaroxaban) tablets,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM280333.pdf. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  23. Highlights of Prescribing Information for Xarelto®, December 2014. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2015/022406s012lbl.pdf (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  24. Department of Health and Human Services. Letter to Johnson & Johnson. (June 6, 2013.) NDA# 202439/MA# 215. Reference ID: 3320499. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/EnforcementActivitiesbyFDA/WarningLettersandNoticeofViolationLetterstoPharmaceuticalCompanies/UCM357833.pdf. (Accessed February 12, 2016). 

  25. “Medication Guide Xarelto® (zah-REL-toe) (rivaroxaban) tablets,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM280333.pdf. (Accessed February 12, 2016).