Synopsis: Information on cardiovascular diseases defined as diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels of the human body.
What are Cardiovascular Diseases?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. Common CVDs include: ischemic heart disease (IHD), stroke, hypertensive heart disease, rheumatic heart disease (RHD), aortic aneurysms, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, congenital heart disease, endocarditis, and peripheral artery disease (PAD), among others. Cardiovascular disease is currently the number one cause of death and disability in the United States and most European countries.
A definition of cardiovascular disease doesn't include an age.
In fact, early signs of cardiovascular disease have been noted during surgeries performed on young soldiers wounded in battle. It has been estimated that plaque build-up was seen in the arteries of nearly 90% of the troops wounded in Vietnam. That's pretty amazing when one considers that these soldiers were in their teens and early twenties. So, we need to take a good look at exactly what cardiovascular disease is, what causes it, and how we can prevent it.
The term 'cardiovascular disease' is used to cover a group of problems related to the heart or the body's overall circulatory system. These problems include heart attacks, strokes, arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, ischemia, hypertension, angina, and other dysfunctions. For the sake of brevity, this article will focus on heart disease and its prevention. The reason for concentrating on heart disease is simple. Someone in the United States dies every minute from a heart attack.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one health problem in Western society.
It is the leading cause of death for over one million people each year in the United States. It is estimated that over 50 million Americans currently have cardiovascular disease although many will not know it because they have no symptoms yet. In fact, 25% of the people who have heart attacks had no symptoms prior to the incident.
Following cigarette smoking, the major factor that contributes to heart disease is one's diet. There are several dietary changes that can help prevent the onset of heart disease.
- Start by eating less red meat and dairy products.
- For protein, you can eat fish, skinless chicken and turkey.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol, chocolate, sugar, fatty foods, fried foods, spicy foods, soft drinks, and all processed foods such as white bread.
- Make sure that you get enough essential fatty acids, particularly omega 3. Eating fish provides the availability of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, a low fat-to-protein ratio, and a high mineral content, particularly in ocean fish. The beneficial fats may help prevent cardiovascular disease.
- A high fiber content in your diet is helpful. Eating lots of raw foods such as salads, fruits, and vegetables supplies an adequate level of fiber. Cooking tends to break down the fiber of most foods.
- Low sodium diets are beneficial in preventing heart disease. Eliminate foods that are high in salt content. Some foods and additives to avoid include foods with preservatives or mold inhibitors, canned vegetables, diet soft drinks, meat tenderizers, commercially prepared foods, MSG, Saccharin, and baking soda.
- Studies have shown that there are several nutritional supplements that can be helpful in heart disease prevention. As in the case of the herbs, each of these supplements has its own properties and each one can have severe side effects if taken inappropriately. The heart-helping supplements are coenzyme Q10, calcium, magnesium, L-carnitine, lecithin, potassium, selenium, vitamin E, essential fatty acids, copper, multi-enzyme complex, bromelain, vitamin B complex, vitamin C.
- Perhaps the biggest risk factor of all in heart disease is lifestyle. That means that heart attacks and heart disease are very preventable. It just takes a little work, like everything worthwhile in life does. The key lifestyle changes that will help keep your heart healthy are things that we all know to do. It's interesting to see that a lot of these risk factors work off of each other. For example, losing weight will usually lower your cholesterol and blood pressure.
The best changes to make for preventing heart disease are:
- Quit smoking.
- Lose weight.
- Lower your cholesterol.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Reduce stress.
- Exercise regularly.
Symptoms of Heart Attack and Stroke
Fig. 1 - Labeled diagram showing veins and arteries of the human circulatory system.
Often, there are no symptoms of the underlying disease of the blood vessels. A heart attack or stroke may be the first warning of underlying disease. Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, the left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back
- Women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain
- The person may experience difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath; feeling sick or vomiting; feeling light-headed or faint; breaking into a cold sweat; and becoming pale
Common symptoms of a stroke
- Sudden weakness of the face, arm, or leg, most often on one side of the body.
Other symptoms include sudden onset of:
- Fainting or unconsciousness
- Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes
- Severe headache with no known cause
- Confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease include:
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heart beat
- Chest pain and fainting
Symptoms of rheumatic fever include:
- Pain and swelling of the joints
- Stomach cramps and vomiting
One last bit of information that I thought might be helpful is a list of terms that you might hear in the discussion of heart disease. It's always better to know what your doctor is describing and the definitions below can help you with that.
Common Heart Disease Terms
- Angina - a sense of suffocating contraction or tightening of the lower part of the chest.
- Arrhythmia - an irregularity in the force or rhythm of the heartbeat.
- Atherosclerosis - a form of arteriosclerosis characterized by the deposition of plaques containing cholesterol and lipids on the innermost layer of the walls of large and medium-sized arteries.
- Arteriosclerosis - a chronic disease in which thickening, hardening, and loss of elasticity of the arterial walls result in impaired blood circulation. It develops with aging, and in hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions.
- Atrium - either of the upper chambers of the heart that receives blood from the veins and forces it into a ventricle.
- Cardiomyopathy - a disease or disorder of the heart muscle, especially of unknown or obscure cause.
- Congestive Heart Failure - a condition marked by weakness, edema, and shortness of breath that is caused by the inability of the heart to maintain adequate blood circulation in the peripheral tissues and the lungs.
- Coronary - the blood vessels surrounding the heart or an obstruction of blood flow in a coronary artery by a blood clot.
- Fibrillation - rapid uncoordinated twitching movements that replace the normal rhythmic contraction of the heart and may cause a lack of circulation and pulse.
- Hypertension - arterial disease in which chronic high blood pressure is the primary symptom.
- Ischemia - a decrease in the blood supply to a bodily organ, tissue, or part caused by constriction or obstruction of the blood vessels.
- Mitral Valve Prolapse - a condition resulting from the mitral valve not regulating the flow of blood between the left atrium and left ventricle of the heart.
- Myocardial Infarction - destruction of heart tissue resulting from obstruction of the blood supply to the heart muscle.
- Palpitations - irregular, rapid beating or pulsation of the heart.
- Peripheral Vascular Disease - a condition involving circulatory problems in the extremities.
- Stroke - a sudden loss of brain function caused by a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel to the brain.
- Tachycardia - a rapid heart rate, especially one above 100 beats per minute in an adult.
- Ventricle - a.) the chamber on the left side of the heart that receives arterial blood from the left atrium and contracts to force it into the aorta. b.) the chamber on the right side of the heart that receives venous blood from the right atrium and forces it into the pulmonary artery.
By the time that heart problems are detected, the underlying cause (atherosclerosis) is usually quite advanced, having progressed for decades. There is therefore increased emphasis on preventing atherosclerosis by modifying risk factors, such as healthy eating, exercise and avoidance of smoking.