About Heart Disease
Heart disease the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. It can include conditions such as:
- Coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
- Abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias
- Heart failure
- Heart valve disease
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
- Pericardial disease
- Aorta disease
- Vascular disease (blood vessel disease)
Heart disease affects both men and women and occurs at mid-life as well as in old age. Some ethnic groups such as African Americans and Latinos are at especially high risk for heart disease. An individual's risk for heart disease can be improved — or even reversed — by making certain lifestyle changes.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Certain risk factors increase the risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack. Risk factors are categorized as controllable or uncontrollable.
Controllable risk factors can be modified, treated or controlled by lifestyle changes or medicine. These factors include:
- High cholesterol
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Stress management
Uncontrollable risk factors, that cannot be modified, treated or controlled, include:
The most common types of heart disease are:
- Family history
Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
Coronary artery disease occurs when the small blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the heart are narrowed. When this happens, blood supply is reduced and the heart is starved of oxygen. Left untreated, CAD can lead to chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, heart attack and even death.
Heart attacks occur when the arteries that carry oxygen to the heart become narrowed or blocked completely. This is due to atherosclerosis, a build-up of plaque (fatty material, calcium, proteins and inflammatory cells). Plaque can rupture, causing blood clots that totally block the artery and cut off the oxygen supply.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most common cardiovascular disease and a leading cause of stroke and heart attacks. Blood pressure measures the force of blood pushing against the artery walls as it flows through the body. Hypertension occurs when the pressure inside the blood vessels is too high, forcing the heart to work harder to pump. Hypertension often has no symptoms and can have serious health consequences if not treated.
Heart Valve Disease
Heart valve disease causes one or more of the heart’s four valves to malfunction. The problem may be regurgitation, when the valve fails to shut properly to keep blood from flowing backward. Or it may be stenosis, when the valve becomes so stiff or damaged that the heart must work harder to force blood through it. Either of these conditions can seriously impair the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body, leading to heart failure.
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