Heart Disease 101
What is Heart Disease and Why Does it Occur?
Coronary heart disease is the most common form of heart disease. It is a disorder of the blood vessels of the heart that can lead to heart attack. A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen and nutrients from getting to the heart. Often referred to simply as heart disease, it is one of several cardiovascular diseases, which are diseases of the heart and blood vessel system. Other cardiovascular diseases include stroke, high blood pressure, angina (chest pain), and rheumatic heart disease.
One reason some people aren't too concerned about heart disease is that they think it can be "cured" with surgery. This is a myth. Heart disease is a lifelong condition—once you get it, you'll always have it. Procedures such as bypass surgery and angioplasty can help blood and oxygen flow to the heart more easily, but the arteries remain damaged, which means you are more likely to have a heart attack. What's more, the condition of your blood vessels will steadily worsen unless you make changes in your daily habits. Many die of complications from heart disease, or become permanently disabled.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Risk factors are conditions or habits that make a person more likely to develop a disease. They can also increase the chances that an existing disease will get worse. Important risk factors for heart disease that you can do something about are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, being overweight, being physically inactive, having a family history of early heart disease, and age.
Some risk factors, such as age and family history of early heart disease, can't be changed. For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55. After menopause, women are more apt to get heart disease, in part because their body's production of estrogen drops.
While certain risk factors cannot be changed, it is important to realize that you do have control over many others. Regardless of your age, background, or health status, you can lower your risk of heart disease—and it doesn't have to be complicated. Protecting your heart can be as simple as taking a brisk walk, whipping up a good vegetable soup, or getting the support you need to maintain a healthy weight.
General Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease
The first step toward heart health is becoming aware of your own personal risk for heart disease. Some risks, such as smoking cigarettes, are obvious. But other risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, generally don't have obvious signs or symptoms. So you'll need to gather some information to create your personal “heart profile.”
Besides keeping track of your own risks factors, you need to have all your “numbers”, such as cholesterol, and blood pressure. A cardiac risk assessment is a group of tests and health factors that have been proven to indicate your chance of having a coronary event. They have been refined to indicate the degree of risk: slight, moderate, or high.
How is Heart Disease Treated?
Treatment will be based on many factors – including the results of the above tests and your family and personal medical and lifestyle history. The course of treatment may include surgery, catheterization, anticoagulants and other medications, among many other options.
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