A Healthy Heart is Your Best Defense
Heart disease is our country’s number-one killer and it doesn’t stop because of a pandemic. More Americans die from cardiovascular diseases, more than all forms of cancer combined. It is more important now, than ever that you know your risk for heart disease and that you stay on top of treating it if you’ve been diagnosed. According to the CDC, 4 in 10 people have reported avoiding medical care due to concerns over COVID. Your heart health can’t wait, take a health risk or visit your doctor today.
That being said, there is plenty of good news. Because so much is understood about the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as well as ways to treat it, you can work with your doctors to greatly reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular issues. Even now, hospital and doctors’ offices are the safest place to be if you’re experiencing a medical emergency.
Causes of Heart Disease
A number of conditions, habits and other factors increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Some are out of your control—for example, everyone’s risk rises with age. But most risk factors are under your control, and making important lifestyle changes can improve your odds of enjoying good heart health.
Some of the risk factors you can control:
- SMOKING: This is the most important controllable risk factor for cardiovascular disease; a smoker’s risk of developing heart disease is much higher than that of nonsmokers. Smoking also acts with other factors to increase your overall risk.
- HIGH CHOLESTEROL: As your blood cholesterol level rises, so does your heart disease risk. There are three types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol); low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol); and triglycerides.
- HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE: Blood pressure measures how hard your heart is working to pump blood. High blood pressure strains your heart over time, stiffening the muscle and increasing your risk of heart attack, stroke and other conditions.
- OBESITY/BEING OVERWEIGHT: Because being overweight or obese can raise cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure and trigger type 2 diabetes, it’s a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
- TYPE 2 DIABETES: People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke. If you have prediabetes or diabetes, you have high blood glucose (sugar) levels, which in turn leads to increased plaque buildup in your arteries.
Types of Heart Disease
These are some of the most common cardiovascular conditions:
Your heart is a muscle—and it needs oxygen to stay alive. Sometimes, plaque (a substance made of up fat and cholesterol) builds up in the arteries that feed your heart, or plaque breaks off and forms a clot that severely or even completely blocks blood flow to the heart muscle, depriving it of oxygen and other nutrients. That’s called ischemia, and when heart muscle begins to die as a result of ischemia, it’s called a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
As in a heart attack, ischemic stroke happens when plaque builds up on artery walls. In this case, though, the plaque that may form a clot happens in a blood vessel that leads to the brain. When the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off, brain cells die, potentially damaging your ability to do things like walk or talk.
Put simply, an arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm. Though the heart itself is a muscle, it is controlled by an electrical rhythm, and when that rhythm gets out of whack, the heart doesn’t do its job properly. Arrhythmias can take the form of a too-fast rhythm (tachycardia) or a too-slow rhythm (bradycardia). You can also have atrial fibrillation, which is when an erratic rhythm in the upper chambers of the heart leaves you vulnerable to a stroke, or ventricular fibrillation, an erratic rhythm in the lower chambers of the heart, which is very serious and can trigger cardiac arrest.
Heart Valve Disease
Your heart has four valves, and each valve has a flap of tissue that opens and closes every time your heart beats, controlling the flow of blood into and out of the four chambers of your heart. There are three main problems that affect heart valves: regurgitation, which is when the valve doesn’t close tightly and allows blood to flow backward; stenosis, which is when the flaps of the valve stiffen or fuse together, so the valve can’t open all the way; and atresia, which is when a valve is missing an opening altogether. Some heart valve problems are congenital, which means you’re born with them. In some cases, you can have a heart valve problem your whole life with no symptoms. Or problems can become progressively worse and eventually lead to other forms of cardiovascular disease such as stroke or heart attack..