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Cardiovascular Disease

Overview | Risk Factors | Prevention

Overview

The term cardiovascular disease refers to a collection of diseases and conditions within the cardiovascular system, which consists of the heart and all the blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease encompasses stroke, high blood pressure, aneurysm, heart attack, varicose veins, coronary artery and heart valve diseases and more.

How common is cardiovascular disease?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 40 percent of all deaths. About 950,000 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each year, which amounts to one death every 33 seconds. In addition, about 61 million Americans — almost one-fourth of the population — have some form of cardiovascular disease, which is responsible for almost 6 million hospitalizations each year.

Are there any known risk factors for cardiovascular disease?
Yes. There are two categories of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. People may be born with some types of cardiovascular disease (congenital) or acquire others later on, usually from an unhealthy lifestyle, such as tobacco use or a diet high in fat. Some types of cardiovascular disease can even cause other types of cardiovascular disease. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and physical inactivity.

How can I prevent cardiovascular disease?
Research shows that by encouraging healthier lifestyles and increasing intervention and early detection, it is possible to reduce the chances of heart disease and stroke in people who are healthy. It is also possible to improve the health of people who have already experienced a cardiac or vascular incident by stopping smoking or improving nutrition. The strategy is to limit the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol in your diet and to increase your intake of fruits/vegetables/low-fat dairy products and grains. In addition, you should limit portion size and maintain a healthy weight. It is quite possible to enjoy a varied and tasty diet and to limit your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

How do I know if I am headed down the path of heart failure? Can I do anything about it if I have already caused damage?

Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump blood sufficient to meet the demands of the body. This inability is most commonly sensed as shortness of breath with activity or at rest, and fatigue. These two symptoms can also be caused by other problems that doctors can sort out by examination and tests such as echocardiography — a non-invasive test that images the heart by sound to see how well the heart is pumping.

It is clear that careful management of heart failure by medication and healthy lifestyle can reduce symptoms and improve survival and reduce the need for hospital admission. The medications that have been most helpful in this regard are ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers. You should talk to your physician about whether you have congestive heart failure and about the best strategies for prevention the problem from getting worse.