Cardiovascular problems, or problems that affect the heart and blood vessels, are some of the greatest overall health problems in the United States and worldwide. Overall, heart disease, sometimes called coronary artery disease, is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. Heart attack, when the heart suddenly stops working, is another major problem related to cardiovascular health. And there are many more conditions that can affect the heart or blood vessels and impact cardiovascular health.
Heart disease is a general term that refers to blood circulation problems in the heart. It is the result of atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of the arteries caused by plaque buildup. When a person has heart disease, it increases the risk for other cardiovascular problems occurring, such as heart attack or stroke. A stroke can occur if a blood vessel is blocked by a dislodged piece of plaque of if it suddenly bursts.
Other problems related to cardiovascular health can also develop. For example, some people have an irregular heartbeat that comes and goes, which is known as arrhythmia. When a heart valve is not opening or closing properly, this can cause heart and blood flow problems as well. Heart failure is often a complication of heart disease, and this occurs when the heart cannot keep up with the blood flow that the body needs. In addition, health conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes can all increase the risk for future cardiovascular problems.
A number of risk factors increase the chances of developing cardiovascular problems later in life. Some, such as age or a family history of the problem, are out of an individual’s control. But in other cases, people can take steps to reduce their risk for cardiovascular problems with simple lifestyle changes. For example, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and quitting smoking can all reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular problems. Other health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure increase the risk for heart disease so it’s also important to manage these conditions if they develop. Being under the care of a trusted doctor is critical, too. This ensures regular heart health checkups and careful monitoring and treatment of any cardiovascular problems that may occur.
SOURCES: Heart Foundation; American Heart Association