Heart disease, otherwise known as cardiovascular disease (CVD), is a silent killer that affects more unsuspecting people than any other health complication. Heart disease risk factors and symptoms can be insidious and, without proper education or medical care, can go unnoticed—with deadly consequences. Arming yourself with the following facts concerning cardiovascular disease causes, symptoms, and prevention measures is the first step to realizing your best heart health.
Cardiovascular Disease Afflictions
Heart disease encompasses a range of heart and circulatory disorders, including:
- Atherosclerosis: results from the gradual thickening of the coronary arterial walls that develops from cholesterol plaque, lipoproteins, and other deposits in the bloodstream. These deposits congest blood vessel pathways, restricting essential oxygen-laden blood from reaching your heart.
- Coronary artery disease (CAD): is a group of diseases (e.g., angina, sudden cardiac death, and myocardial infarction) resulting from decreased blood flow or blockage in your heart’s major blood vessels caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Cardiac arrhythmia: describes an irregular heartbeat or cardiac dysrhythmia. An arrhythmia denotes an irregular sequence of electrical impulses. Heartbeats that are too slow, bradycardia; those that are too fast, tachycardia; heart flutters, fibrillations; and premature heart contractions all comprise instances of cardiac arrhythmia.
- Cardiomyopathy: involves diseases that affect your heart muscle, which enlarges and thickens, making it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. The three types of cardiomyopathy are restrictive, hypertrophic, and dilated.
- Heart infections: develop from viral or bacterial infections that invade the body and contaminate your heart. For instance, infective endocarditis (IE), or bacterial endocarditis (BE), occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and pervade your heart valves, heart lining, or blood vessels.
- Congenital heart defects: denote structural problems of your heart and are the most common type of birth defects—meaning they develop in the womb before birth. Holes in the heart, leaky heart valves, and defective heart vessels are types of congenital heart defects.
Cardiovascular Disease Statistics
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and it affects nearly half of Americans. Over 600,000 people, or approximately 1 in every 4 people, die from the illness every year, and this statistic is expected to swell in the coming years.
Cardiovascular disease affects all sectors of the population; however, gender, race, and age are key indicators of the degree to which the disease will likely manifest. The illness generally occurs 10 years earlier in males, for example. During their working years, males are twice as likely to suffer from complications stemming from heart disease as their female counterparts. Heart disease risks increase with age; however, after 60 years of age, men are more likely to develop heart disease than women. Lower-income African Americans are more likely to die as a result of heart disease than any other socioeconomic group.
Cardiovascular Disease Causes and Risk Factors
Family history, ethnicity, gender, and age are heart disease risk factors that you can’t control. A predisposition for heart disease exacerbated by more controllable poor health habits and circumstances can heighten heart disease incidents significantly. A March 2018 study published in the journal Heart bolsters previous findings that loneliness, or social isolation, is a factor for aggravating pre-existing health conditions and developing long-term habits that may contribute to the development of heart disease. The study further suggests that social isolation increases the risk of first-time stroke and death as a result of myocardial infarction.
As the numbers of cardiovascular disease-related illnesses grow, science and health institutions have taken great strides to educate the public, especially disproportionately affected groups, about heart disease dangers. Typical warnings we’ve heard discourage lack of exercise, stress, obesity, poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, nicotine use, and drug abuse—all of which increase our chances of developing cardiovascular disease complications. Apparently, millennials—adults born between the early 1980s and mid to late 1990s—are not heeding these warnings. Recent news from the Mayo Clinic suggests that millennials, or the “computer generation,” are more likely to embrace the sedentary lifestyle while engaging in behaviors that risk heart health.
Developing lifestyle routines that circumvent heart disease risk factors is the best way to decrease your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Avoiding fatty foods full of trans fats and too much saturated fat is one reasonable way to improve heart health. Research published in a 2018 article in the journal Laboratory Investigation suggests that consuming high-fat meals can induce acute coronary syndromes such as myocardial infarction, or heart attack.
Cardiovascular Disease Prevention
Heart disease is preventable as far as lifestyle habits are concerned, but there is no cure. Your doctor will assess your condition and provide you with the best heart disease treatment method for your specific needs. Treatment comes in several forms: lifestyle changes, prescription medications, routine monitoring, invasive procedures (like surgery), and non-invasive procedures.
Even so, most people do not know to seek medical attention for heart disease because its symptoms may be misread or missed altogether. Cardiovascular disease symptoms like moderate chest pain and tingling may be mistaken for gas. Other common symptoms include shortness of breath, severe chest pain, fatigue, rapid heartbeat, and leg pain and swelling. Women can experience symptoms not typically associated with heart disease, like anxiety, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, back pain, neck pain, jaw pain, cold sweats, and insomnia. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Cardiovascular Disease and Other Disorders
Know that preexisting or concurrent health complications have been linked to cardiovascular disease. Although cases of rheumatic fever are rare, people who have had the illness in the past may have the resultant rheumatic heart disease (RHD) symptomized by damage to heart valves one develops from poorly treated strep throat or scarlet fever. Women of childbearing age who suffer from RHD are more likely to suffer complications at birth, including death.
Women who have undergone breast cancer treatment are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to a February 2018 study released by the American Heart Association.
Hypertension sufferers are prone to develop heart disease, because the illness places more strain on the heart, requiring it to pump harder for adequate blood circulation throughout the body. The strain on the heart and circulatory system weakens arteries and enlarges the heart muscle, forcing the heart to work even harder to fulfill your body’s blood circulation demands. Diabetes sufferers are also at risk for developing heart disease.
Cardiovascular Disease Treatments
The pharmaceutical company Pfizer is making major headway with the drug tafamidis. In a clinical trial, the heart disease drug was effective in preventing heart disease-related deaths and hospitalizations. Depending on your particular heart disease diagnosis, prescription medications for cardiovascular disease stop blood clots, address angina issues, or manage high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Taking prescription medications may be an unavoidable reality for some, but practicing natural healthful habits is essential to avoiding heart disease for all of us. Eating natural foods as much as possible decreases your likelihood of gaining extra pounds, and it decreases the risk of developing high cholesterol.
Frequent aerobic exercise combats high blood pressure and strengthens heart muscles while increasing the flow of oxygen-rich blood through your heart and body. It is possible to overdo the exercise (called overtraining), but this is not very common. It is more likely that you are not doing enough exercise than you are doing too much.
Abandon urges to abuse drugs and alcohol and consult health practitioners and mental health specialists. In today’s fast-paced world, many of us take for granted the need for balancing work and play. Try to surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Your heart will thank you for the effort.