Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in the US. They kill just over 40% of all Americans. It’s a term that refers to more than one disease of the circulatory system including the heart and blood vessels, whether the blood vessels are affecting the lungs, the brain, kidneys or other parts of the body. These diseases tend to afflict the elderly but increasingly they are showing up in younger people. These are chronic diseases that need to be managed for the rest of one’s life.
Cardiovascular Diseases Risk Factors
Cardiovascular diseases are caused by a build up of plaque in the arteries and blood vessels, which make it difficult for blood to move around the body. The condition is exacerbated by the following conditions:
- High blood pressure – high blood pressure causes the heart to overwork. This will eventually lead to damage of the arteries.
- Cholesterol – high cholesterol levels in the blood causes blood to flow slowly. This allows plaque to build up in the arteries and blood vessels.
- Obesity –obese people tend to have high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, making them more susceptible to cardiovascular diseases and other health problems. The more weight you carry around, the harder the heart has to work.
- Stress – stress has a major effect on cardiovascular health. Stress releases chemicals that increase blood pressure and heart rate, putting strain on the cardiovascular system.
- Depression: A recent study by Concordia University in Montreal has shown that depression increases risk of cardiovascular disease. In part because depression reduces all elements of a healthy lifestyle—a healthy diet and regular exercise—but also it was shown that people with depression have a harder time recovering a normal heart rate after exercise.
Common Signs and Symptoms
Coronary Artery Disease / Coronary Heart Disease
- Angina – Due to the narrowing and hardening of the arteries, which causes a lack of blood to the heart, people tend to experience chest pain. Called angina, chest pain is the most common symptom of cardiovascular disease.
- Shortness of Breath – Because the cells in the body are not receiving enough oxygen from the blood, shortness of breath will result, even in people who exercise regularly.Increased heart rate –Because the heart needs to pump harder in order to provide sufficient levels of blood, the heart rate tends to increase.Feelings of
- Weakness – because of the inadequate supply of blood in the body, coronary heart disease can cause a feeling of weakness and lethargy.
Peripheral Vascular Disease – Peripheral artery disease is a disease of the blood vessels that causes the narrowing and hardening of the arteries that supply the legs and feet. It has the following symptoms:
- Cramps – Because of blocked blood supply, people with peripheral vascular disease often experience cramps in their arms and legs.
- Numbness and Tingling – in extreme cases, peripheral vascular disease can cause numbness and tingling in extremities—the parts of the body furthest from the heart– like the feet. As the extremities are going numb, they will feel tingly and painful. This is when the nerves are becoming damaged due to inadequate blood supply.
- Physical changes in the extremities – a decrease in muscle size, change in color of the skin, or change in temperature on the extremities is also an indication that they are starved of blood.
Cardiovascular Disease Transmission
Cardiovascular diseases are in part genetic. In 1985, Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for proving that a genetic mutation was responsible for high cholesterol that runs in families. This mutation prevents the cholesterol in the blood from being properly metabolized. But in most cases, lifestyle and diet are the key factors associated with the diseases.
Treatment Options For Cardiovascular Diseases
Coronary Artery Disease / Coronary Heart Disease
- Aspirin – as a blood thinner, aspirin is often recommended for people with coronary artery disease.
- Medication and better diet – people with coronary heart disease should control their cholesterol and blood pressure by eating healthier foods and taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Angioplasty – Angioplasty is a surgery where a thin tube is inserted into the blocked artery to make it wider so that blood can flow faster and freer.
- Bypass Surgery – this is a surgery where the blocked artery is bypassed using another blood vessel, which is taken from another part of the body. The blood flow will be redirected to the new blood vessel so that the blood can flow better.
Peripheral Vascular Disease
- Anticoagulants and antiplatelets – these are blood thinners that will blood flow more freely and prevent clotting.
- Cilostazol – a medication to help increase the blood supply to the legs and arms.
- Pentoxifylline – this medication also helps in improving the blood flow in the extremities by making the blood less sticky.
- Angioplasty – angioplasty can also be done for people with peripheral vascular disease.
Prevention Of Cardiovascular Diseases
- Stop Smoking – As many as 30% of deaths caused from cardiovascular diseases are attributable to smoking. Smoking causes the normal wall of arteries and blood vessels to break down which are then replaced with thicker, tougher walls. Quitting smoking has been shown to immediately reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Exercise – Exercise increases the strength of the heart. It helps lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure.
- Eat heart-healthy foods – increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and chia seeds. Avoid foods that are high in cholesterol such as sugar, salt, and fats.
- Lose weight – Losing weight and eating less fat will greatly reduce the chances of cardiovascular diseases. Obese people automatically have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Manage stress – Stress relieving activities like exercise and meditation will have a positive affect on overall health and the health of the heart.
Cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease and peripheral vascular disease are the number one cause of death in the United States. Changing what you eat to a heart-healthy diet, managing your stress, keeping a healthy body weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and regular exercise are all positive steps towards prevention. Be good to yourself and your heart – you deserve it!