Exploring heart disease-when hearts “break”

understanding common heart conditions

updated April 7, 2023

If you have ever had a “broken heart” (and who hasn’t?), you know the sadness and grief cause not just emotional pain, but physical pain. And since that pain is often felt in our chest, it makes sense that we call it “heart break”.

The late Elvis Presley made the expression famous with his breakout hit Heartbreak Hotel. 

And a particularly gruesome battle during the Korean War occurred at a place named Heartbreak Ridge, dramatized in a movie  Heartbreak Ridge.

Exploring -the HEART

We often use the term HEART DISEASE when there are many diseases that involve the heart.  HEART conditions affect people from birth to death.

diagram of the human heart
Heart diseases affect any and sometimes multiple parts of the heart- the atria, ventricles, the valves, the aorta, the pulmonary artery and veins, the walls and the coronary arteries (not shown in this diagram. )

Congenital Heart disease

Heart problems that are present at birth are called congenital heart disease. Defectos cardíacos congénitos. Signs or symptoms may be not apparent for a few weeks or months.

  • A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart. It is present at birth.
  • Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect.
  • The defects can involve the walls of the heart, the valves of the heart, and the arteries and veins near the heart.
  • They can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart. The blood flow can slow down, go in the wrong direction or to the wrong place, or be blocked completely.

I remember how concerned I felt when my son called to tell me the doctor had found a heart murmur in my 3-week-old granddaughter- especially since they lived 2000 miles away. An  echocardiogram showed a VSD, a ventricular septal defect– a hole between the two larger chambers of her heart. We were all relieved when the pediatric cardiologist said it was small and unlikely to cause her problems or to need surgery, and his prediction has been correct.

Other congenital heart conditions



In a previous post I told you about my late friend Chuck who had heart disease. Chuck had developed cardiomyopathy, disease of the heart muscle, which makes up the walls of the heart. Cardiomyopathy  has many causes including high blood pressure (if not controlled), ischemia (lack of blood flow), infections, toxins including alcohol, and sometimes unknown causes.

Cardiomyopathy can often be managed with medications and lifestyle but sometimes, as in Chuck’s case, requires heart transplantation.

Chuck’s wife Sara wrote about his heart condition as well as other medical issues in her memoir Trumped By Sovereignty.



Myocarditis was a potential complication of COVID-19, both from the virus itself as well as the mRNA vaccines against it. But the risk was higher with infection than from the vaccine, the American Heart Association reported.

Myocarditis is much less common than other heart diseases but tends to occur more often in men, and in young to middle aged persons.

Myocarditis results from the inflammation created by a variety of causes.

  • cancer drugs that inhibit the immune system
  • autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus
  • vaccines-mRNA for SARS-CoV2 and smallpox vaccine
  • the most common cause-viruses including coronavirus, influenza, parvovirus B19, dengue

Like other forms of heart disease myocarditis can lead to heart failure and arrhythmias with a mortality rate of 1-7%. Most people have uncomplicated myocarditis and fully recover.

Ischemic Heart Disease

Enfermedad de las arterias coronarias

My late father developed diabetes mellitus which led to atherosclerosis of his coronary arteries, the arteries that carry oxygen to the heart itself. Atherosclerosis can affect any of the arteries and sclerosis means “hardening”, hence the term hardening of the arteries.

EKG tracing
In sudden cardiac death, the heart stops beating abruptly

In his case this caused a heart attack, which in medical terms is a myocardial (heart muscle) infarction(death or damage).

From the damage to his heart muscle he developed congestive heart failure; his heart could not effectively pump blood  to his body.

I still remember the night I received a phone call soon after going to bed. It was an EMT from the local ambulance service telling me he was at my parents’ home. My mother called 911 after my father collapsed at home and died from sudden cardiac death.

Sudden cardiac death occurs when someone with heart disease dies suddenly and unexpectedly. But sometimes, unlike my father’s case, the victim and family didn’t know a heart condition existed. This is often the case when someone dies from a sudden and persistent irregularity of the heart rhythm, called an arrhythmia.

old photo of man in a sailor uniform
My late  father served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War

Presión arterial elevada (Hipertensión)


Both my husband and I have hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure. This is probably the most common cardiovascular disease . Although not a heart condition, it can cause disease in the heart and other vital organs, as shown in this diagram .

complications of high blood pressure

Before you go..

Please follow any of the above links to read more about these and other heart conditions.

Please explore and follow this blog for more articles that explore the HEART of health.

Enjoy this book review of State of the Heart-how we learned to understand the way the heart works and heart and what to do when it doesn’t work the way it should

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