Heart disease is an umbrella term for a range of conditions that result in narrowed or blocked blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. However, the conditions it entails are largely preventable. We highly encourage you to learn more about the common causes of heart disease and how you can help to keep your heart healthy.
The causes of heart disease vary by the specific condition you have, although many people with heart disease have more than one condition. Cardiovascular disease refers to the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries that lead to and from the heart, a condition known as atherosclerosis. When the vessels become blocked, blood is unable to flow to and from your organs and tissues, causing a range of uncomfortable symptoms and potentially dangerous complications, including heart attack and stroke. Atherosclerosis is commonly caused by an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight or obese.
Arrhythmias occur when the electrical activity that powers the heart is compromised, leading to an irregular heartbeat. While arrhythmias are often congenital, they can also be caused by coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, excessive consumption of alcohol or caffeine, drug abuse, stress and certain medications.
Heart failure occurs when the heart muscles are weakened, rendering it unable to pump enough blood and oxygen to meet the needs of your body. Heart failure typically occurs among those who are older than age 60 and who already have coronary artery disease or high blood pressure or who have had a previous heart attack.
While heart disease is frightening, many of the conditions that fall under this category are preventable. You can protect your heart’s health by making lifestyle changes, such as quitting tobacco usage; eating a nutritious diet that limits saturated fats, trans fat, sodium and cholesterol; exercising for at least 30 minutes each day; losing weight if you are overweight or obese; and limiting alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Risk factors for heart disease that cannot be controlled include family history, advanced age and race (certain groups, including Hispanics and African Americans, are at higher risk for heart disease).