Common Cardiac Conditions

Conditions that affect your heart have many different causes such as changes in the blood vessels of the heart, damage to the heart muscle and changes to the heart's electrical system. This section will explain some of the more common conditions that affect the heart and its functioning.


Common Cardiac Conditions

In this section we will explore the most common problems you may experience with your heart.  There will be a brief explanation of these conditions as well as additional links to further resources.



Angina (angina pectoris) occurs when your heart doesn't get as much blood or oxygen as it needs due to a blockage of one or more of the hearts coronary arteries.  This blockage can cause you to feel pain in your chest that may feel like squeezing, burning, or suffocating sensation.

These symptoms can occur during physical activity, exercise, stress, periods of extreme hot or cold temperatures, after heavy meals, or while drinking or smoking. 

Angina is not a heart attack but is a warning sign that you may be at risk for a heart attack, or cardiac arrest. Usually the pain will go away with rest or medication, but your heart is telling you that it is not getting enough oxygen.  If you are still having pain after 15 minutes you may be having a heart attack.  Call 9-1-1 or local emergency response number immediately.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac rhythm disturbance.  The upper chambers of the heart (atria) fibrillate (quiver) resulting in uncoordinated contractions.  Patients report feelings of palpitations, shortness of breath, fainting, and possibly chest pain.  If you have atrial fibrillation you are at higher risk of stroke caused by blood clots forming in the atria.  These clots can be released into the circulation and travel to the brain causing a stroke.  Your doctor may require you to take a blood thinner such as aspirin, Warfarin(Coumadin) or Dabigatran to help decrease the risk.


Arrhythmias describes any abnormality that causes changes to your heart rate and rhythm. Please see additional sites that detail the various types of arrhythmias.

Bradycardia (slow heartbeat)

Bradycardia is an arrhythmia that occurs when your natural hearts pacemaker called the sinoatrial node (SA node) fails to send out an electrical signal or send the signal too slowly causing the heartbeat to be slow.  Symptoms of a slow heartbeat can vary from dizziness, fatigue or fainting. 


Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function.  Most cardiac arrests occur when the electrical impulses in the heart become rapid(ventricular tachycardia) or chaotic(ventricular fibrillation) or both.  The abnormal heart rhythm causes the heart to suddenly stop beating.  Cardiac arrest can be reversed if treated within a few minutes by cardiopulmonary resuscitation(CPR) and electric shock(defibrillation).  Sudden cardiac death occurs within minutes after symptoms appear unless it is treated quickly.


Cardiomyopathy refers to a disease of the heart muscle.  This causes the muscle of the heart to become enlarged and stiff, and results in the inability of the heart to meets the body's demands. There are several types of cardiomyopathy, with dilated cardiomyopathy being the most common type.  For detailed information on the types of cardiomyopathy please see the following link.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease.  It occurs when the arteries in your heart are blocked, leading to complications including:
Angina( chest pain) occurs when the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood.  Heart attack may occur if the part of the heart does not get any oxygen at all due to a blockage of a heart vessel.

Coronary artery disease is caused by a buildup of plaque in the artery walls.  The plaque is a sticky, yellow substance that is made up of fatty deposits like cholesterol, and calcium.  These substances narrow and clog your arteries, which impairs the flow of the blood.  This condition is known as atherosclerosis. 

Early warning signs that you may have coronary artery disease may include; fatigue, pain, and dizziness.  They can be similar to symptoms that are associated with angina: a squeezing, suffocating, or burning feeling that starts at the center of your chest.  This pain may also move to other areas like your arm, neck, back, throat or jaw.  Women are more likely to have symptoms that are more vague such as indigestion or abdominal pain.

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to the body as it is needed.  Some of the more common reasons heart failure can occur are related to damage to the heart muscle caused by heart attack or cardiomyopathy.

When the heart doesn't pump well, you may experience symptoms such as
-     shortness of breath
-     sudden weight gain (1.5 kg) lbs in 1-2 days or (2.5kg) lbs in one week
-     extreme tiredness
-     increased swelling of feet, ankles, legs or abdomen.

Myocardial Infarction (Heart Attack)

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood and oxygen to an area of the heart is blocked. The coronary arteries supply blood and oxygen the muscle of the heart. Heart attacks occur most commonly when a plaque ruptures and a blood clot forms inside the coronary artery, suddenly stopping the blood flow through the artery.

When the heart muscle does not get enough blood containing oxygen it becomes damaged and begins to die. The amount of damage increases the longer blood flow is prevented and may not be reversible.

Not all heart attacks are created equal.  Some require urgent intervention using clot busting drugs or a procedure known as Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PPCI). PPCI is an emergency procedure in which a stent is placed in the heart to reopen life-threatening blocked arteries.  It is important to seek treatment immediately to ensure the best possible outcome.

The symptoms of a heart attack vary but can include: chest pain, neck, jaw or arm discomfort, nausea and vomiting, sweating, shortness of breath or loss of consciousness.

If you are experiencing any of these signs, you should:

CALL 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately, or have someone call for you. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.



Tachycardia is an arrhythmia that refers to a heart rate that beats too fast.  Tachycardia could be a normal response to exercise or abnormal where a patient may feel palpitations, dizziness, or may lose consciousness.  Tachycardia can originate in the upper chambers(atria) or lower chambers(ventricles).  A type of atrial tachycardia is called atrial flutter.  Likewise, a ventricular tachycardia starts in the bottom chamber.  Diagnosis and treatment can include medications and/or an electrophysiology study with ablation to eliminate the abnormal electrical pathway.  Ventricular tachycardia can also be treated with the implantation of an implantable defibrillator (ICD). 

Valve disorders

Some of the terms related to disease of the heart valves are stenosis (narrowing), prolapse (slipping out of place), and regurgitation (backward flow). The four valves of the heart are the tricuspid, pulmonic, mitral, and aortic.  A valve that malfunctions cannot open or close properly. 

Valve prolapse- the valves of the heart are unable to close properly but collapse backward into the heart chamber that they should be sealing off so the blood can be pushed forward. 

Valve regurgitation - when the heart valves do not close properly as in valve prolapse, regurgitation or backward flow of blood occurs. 

Valve stenosis - stenosis or narrowing can affect any  of the heart valves. It makes the heart work harder to push the blood forward through the narrowed valve opening.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Ventricular fibrillation occurs when electrical signals do not follow the normal path.  The rapid signals result in ineffective contractions of the ventricle.  The heart is unable to pump the blood to support the body and the brain.  Ventricular fibrillation is the cause of sudden cardiac arrest if not immediately treated.

Wolff-Parkinson White (WPW) Syndrome

WPW is an electrical abnormality that is present at birth.  With WPW, there is an abnormal electrical pathway that exists between the top chambers(atria) and the bottom chambers(ventricles).  The rhythm disorder can be treated with medications as well as ablation. 


  • Electrophysiologic Testing Richard N. Fogoros 1999
  • Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario
  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Pulse Check CPR Basics