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Heart Disease

Heart disease is a term used to describe several conditions affecting the heart. These include coronary heart disease, heart attack, congestive heart failure, and congenital heart disease. Many people do not realize they are at risk for heart disease. More people die each year from heart disease than from any other cause.

Heart disease and cardiovascular disease mean generally the same thing. Cardiovascular disease usually describes conditions that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, like narrowed or blocked blood vessels. Heart disease is broader and includes heart infections and conditions affecting heart rhythm. Coronary heart disease is another term used for heart disease and cardiovascular disease.

Heart Attack

A heart attack happens when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked. If blood flow is blocked for long enough that part of the heart is damaged or dies. The medical term for this is myocardial infarction. Coronary artery disease can lead to a heart attack.

Coronary Artery Disease

When someone has coronary artery disease, it means they have plaque that has grown in the coronary arteries. This plaque narrows the arteries and limits blood flow to the heart. It also limits oxygen to the heart. Limited blood and oxygen can cause a heart attack.

Heart Attack Prevention

The key to preventing a heart attack is to reduce your risk factors. Many risk factors can be reduced by quitting smoking, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising

Many people do not know their disease risk factors. Some risk factors, like age and genetics, cannot be changed. Other risk factors can be reduced by making lifestyle changes. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease.

Risk factors you cannot change:

  • Age - getting older increases heart disease risk.
  • Gender - males are more likely to have heart disease than females.
  • Heredity - people with parents who had heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves.
  • Ethnicity - African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some American Asians are at higher risk for heart disease.

Risk factors you can change:

  • Smoking - a smoker's risk is 2 to 4 times that of non-smokers.
  • High blood cholesterol - heart disease risk rises as cholesterol rises. Blood cholesterol should be below 200 mg/dl.
  • High blood pressure - the heart has to work harder when blood pressure is high. The heart muscle thickens, becomes stiff, and works less effectively.
  • Physical inactivity - regular, moderate or vigorous physical activity reduces heart disease risk. Moderate activity helps if done regularly, but more vigorous activity increases the health benefits.
  • Overweight and obesity - people with excess body fat are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Risk can be lowered by losing just 10% of body weight. For a 200-pound person, 10% weight loss is 20 pounds.
  • Diabetes - having diabetes puts you at increased risk for heart disease, even when blood sugar is controlled. Uncontrolled blood sugar is even more risky.

For more information about heart health programs near you, contact your local county extension office.