7 Common Heart Defects in Adults, Plus Causes and Symptoms


Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US. Around 610,000 people die every year from heart disease, which is around one in every four deaths. 

But there are many different types of heart defects in adults, each with its own causes, symptoms, and treatments. In some cases, lifestyle changes and medication can offer a solution. For other heart disorders, surgery is the only option to improve your health. 

Read on to find out more about the most common heart conditions as well as the causes and symptoms of each one. 

1. Coronary Artery Disease

Of all the different types of heart disease, coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common. Also known as coronary heart disease, CAD is the result of a build-up of LDL cholesterol which then forms plaque in your heart’s arteries. 

Risk factors of CAD include a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, obesity, and stress. Your risk of CAD also increases with age. For men, the risk becomes greater after age 55, while women are more likely to suffer from CAD after menopause. 

CAD comes with no noticeable symptoms in its early stages. But when plaque becomes large enough to block blood flow, you may feel symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain. Chest pain is more common in men than in women. 

If plaque ruptures, this can form a blood clot which then blocks an artery to your heart. As a result of this blockage, the blood can’t deliver oxygen to parts of your heart. This lack of oxygen then leads to (sometimes permanent) heart muscle damage, also known as a heart attack. 

2. Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia is a general term used to describe a range of different conditions of the heart related to the speed and/or regularity of your heartbeat. These can mean that your heartbeat is too slow (bradycardia), too fast (tachycardia), or irregular.

Although there are many types of arrhythmia, the most common ones are atrial fibrillation (AFib), supraventricular tachycardia, and premature atrial contractions (PACs). Many different factors can cause arrhythmia, including medical complications such as CAD or scarring from a previous heart attack, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking and drug abuse. 

As those living with AFib and other forms of arrhythmia will know, common symptoms are a fluttering in the chest, shortness of breath, fainting, and weakness. 

3. Aortic Aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta, the artery that carries blood from the heart through your torso and chest area. 

Aortic aneurysms increase the force of blood pumping. This can result in a split in the artery wall’s layers, which allows blood to leak between them. Or, the aneurysm can burst, causing internal bleeding. 

There are two types of aortic aneurysms – thoracic and abdominal. Thoracic aortic aneurysms are less common and include symptoms such as chest or back pain, shortness of breath, and difficulty swallowing. Abdominal aortic aneurysms often have no symptoms but can cause pain in your back, groin, legs, and buttocks. 

Some risk factors and causes of aortic aneurysms include smoking, high blood pressure, and hardened arteries (atherosclerosis). 

4. Pericardial Disease

Pericardial disease is the name for any disease of the pericardium, the thin tissue sac surrounding your heart. One of the more common forms of pericardial disease is pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the pericardium. 

This condition is most often the result of an inflammatory disease, such as lupus, or a virus. It can also be as a result of an injury to your pericardium following open-heart surgery. 

The most common symptom of pericardial disease is chest pain, which is the result of the irritated layers of the pericardium rubbing against each other.

5. Heart Valve Disease

Your heart has four valves which enable blood to blood between your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. All of these valves can develop distinct problems, including endocarditis, aortic valve stenosis, and mitral valve prolapse. 

A defect in one of your four valves can make it difficult for a valve to open and close as it should. This can then cause a blockage or leak in your blood flow.

People with heart valve disease may be born with it, but others may have developed it over time as the result of an infection. And, while some people experience no symptoms, other signs of valve disease include a heart murmur, shortness of breath, and fatigue. 

6. Congestive Heart Failure

Despite its name, congestive heart failure (CHF) doesn’t mean that your heart has stopped working, or is about to. 

Heart failure is the term for when your heart isn’t pumping blood as it should. This can be due to a weak or stiff heart muscle, heart valve problems, or other health conditions. CAD is often the cause of CHF but thyroid disease, high blood pressure, and other conditions can also be the cause. 

One type of CHF is low output, which is when your heart isn’t pumping enough blood. Another type of CHF is fluid congestion. This is when your heart pumps at a high pressure, meaning fluid backs up from your heart into other parts of your body, such as your lungs, abdomen, and ankles. Some people with CHF can have both fluid congestion and low output. 

Shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs and ankles are all common symptoms of CHF. 

7. Heart Attack

A heart attack, which is also known as myocardial infarction (MI), happens when the blood supply to part of your heart muscle becomes blocked. In the US, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds

The most common cause is when a piece of fatty material breaks off to form a blood clot within a coronary artery. This then damages the part of your heart muscle supplied by that coronary artery. 

Most heart attacks are the result of severe CAD. Common symptoms of a heart attack including pressure in your chest and arms, nausea, shortness of breath, and sudden dizziness. 

Your Guide to Common Heart Defects in Adults

As this guide to heart defects in adults shows, key danger signs of many different heart conditions include shortness of breath, chest pain, and fatigue. 

Keeping an eye out for these symptoms and getting regular heart check-ups ensures you get any treatment you need sooner. And, being aware of the lifestyle factors that can lead to these heart disorders, may also encourage you to change your habits as a means to cut your risk.  

For more of the latest health news, be sure to check out our other blog posts!

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