Each year, around 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths. But, before we dive into the causes of heart disease, let’s first discuss what exactly is heart disease.
What is heart disease?
The term heart and blood vessel disease, or simply heart disease, can be misleading. Despite what the name suggests, heart disease does not refer to a single condition. Instead, it is an umbrella term used to describe several types of conditions that affect the heart. You may also hear heart disease used interchangeably with the term cardiovascular disease.
These types of conditions include:
- Coronary artery disease
- Valvular heart disease
- Heart rhythm disturbances (arrhythmias)
- Heart infections
- Congenital heart defects
Many of these conditions are related to a process called atherosclerosis which develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries within the heart. This buildup of plaque causes the arteries to narrow and restricts the ability for blood to flow through. If the buildup forms a clot that blocks the blood flow entirely, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
What are the causes of heart disease?
There are three major risk factors for developing heart disease, with nearly half of all Americans having at least one of them.
1. High blood pressure: Blood pressure refers to the force of your blood against the walls of your blood vessels as your heart pumps blood throughout the body. About one-third of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, with only slightly more than half considered as having their high blood pressure under control.
Known as a “silent killer,” high blood pressure often presents little to no symptoms so it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. To help understand your blood pressure reading, here is a helpful chart from the American Heart Association:
2. Abnormal cholesterol levels: At normal levels, cholesterol is an essential substance that helps the body build the structure of cell walls, produce the bile acids in the intestine that are necessary for digestion, allow the body to produce vitamin D and enable the body to produce certain hormones.
There are two types of cholesterol–high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is considered “good” cholesterol and LDL as “bad.” The latter contributes to fatty buildups in the arteries which increases the risk for heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease. But, LDL isn’t the only cholesterol to be concerned with.
Low levels of HDL may also contribute to the development of heart disease as some experts believe it works to carry the bad cholesterol (LDL) away from the arteries and to the liver where it can be broken down and eliminated from the body.
High cholesterol has no signs or symptoms and it is recommended that all adults age 20 and over have their cholesterol checked every 4-6 years.
3. Diabetes: Diabetes refers to a condition in which the body is unable to properly process food for use as energy because the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or it can’t use the insulin that it does produce as well as it should. This causes sugars to build up in the bloodstream.
Those with diabetes tend to develop heart disease at a younger age than people without. In fact, heart disease and stroke are the most common causes of death in adults with diabetes, not actual diabetes itself.
If your blood glucose (sugar) levels are normal, it is recommended that you have your levels checked every three years. There are three types of tests that your doctor can use to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes–a blood test called HbA1C, a fasting plasma glucose test (FPG) or an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).
Is heart disease preventable?
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices or by treating the underlying condition causing heart disease. Some ways that you can help lower your risk for heart disease include:
- Not smoking
- Managing your weight
- Eating a balanced diet
- Participating in regular physical activity
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption
For more information about reducing cardiovascular risk factors to prevent disease, call (941) 629-2111 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Majeed of PULSE: The Heart, Valve and Vascular Institute. Located in Port Charlotte, Florida, PULSE also provides care to patients in the surrounding areas including Englewood, Venice, Sarasota and Bradenton.