Cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease, is a general category for a range of diseases that affect the heart and/or blood vessels. Some sources estimate that ultimately, 30% of the world’s population die from heart disease, and 600,000 Americans die from it every year.
The factors influencing the development of heart disease include, but are not limited to:
The heart is one of the strongest muscles in the human body, beating roughly 70 times at rest a minute to deliver blood throughout your body. As tough as the human heart is, even it has limits.
The name given to the family of diseases that affects the normal functioning of the heart and/or blood vessels is cardiovascular disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), of the 57 million deaths worldwide, roughly 17 million deaths, or 29.8%, were due to cardiovascular disease in 2008. Another way to think of its severity and prevalence is that cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 1 in every 3.4 deaths.
Cardiovascular disease encompasses, but is not limited to, diseases such as:
- Coronary heart disease
- Cerebrovascular disease
- Hypertension & hypertensive heart disease
- Cardiac dysrhythmias (Irregular heart beats)
- Inflammatory heart disease
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Rheumatic heart disease
Your heart and blood vessels supply your body with the oxygen and nutrients it needs, as well as transporting waste products away. Problems in this supply can lead to other serious and chronic complications, possibly resulting in death.
Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease,is a condition caused by atherosclerosis, or by a build-up of cholesterol and plaque in the coronary artery, the blood vessel that supplies the heart. It results in decreased blood flow to the heart, which can lead to weakening and wasting away of the heart, as well as decreased blood flow throughout your body.
In its early stages, CHD will usually be symptom-free. However, some symptoms that may indicate CHD are:
- Chest & heart pains
- Shortness of breath
- Pain associated with activity and motions
Coronary heart disease may result in a heart attack if blood flow to the heart stops completely, which may result in death. The prognosis for those who follow their doctor’s recommendations is generally better.
Cerebrovascular disease (CVD), or a disease of the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain, can result in a number of life-changing and even fatal conditions, including transient ischemic attacks, dementia and stroke, in which a blood vessel blocks blood to the vein or causes the brain to bleed. CVD is caused, among other things, by atherosclerosis. The most common forms of CVD are cerebral thrombosis, cerebral embolism and cerebral hemorrhaging.
The signs and symptoms of CVD depend on the location and type of affected tissue, but may include:
- Drowsiness with dilated pupils
- ECG abnormalities
- Confusion followed by a loss of consciousness
- Difficulty with or irregularity in breathing
- Increased blood pressure
- Motor dysfunction, such as hemiparesis and hemiplegia (or one-sided weakness & paralysis, respectively)
The best way to avoid heart disease is by taking preventative measures. However, even if you develop one of the many illnesses that fall in the cardiovascular heart disease family, certain types are reversible. Maintaining a healthy, heart-friendly lifestyle and diet, incorporating a variety of healthy foods with regular exercise, as well as avoiding certain risk factors such as excessive salt, sugar and alcohol use can go far in keeping your heart fit!
How it’s Diagnosed
Since cardiovascular disease comprises a family of conditions, there is no single method to diagnose cardiovascular disease. The following will list the methods used to diagnose two common and serious cardiovascular diseases.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
Since no one method or test is foolproof or definitive, your physician will order an assortment of tests to diagnose or rule out CHD. They will first take a complete medical history, taking diet, lifestyle, medications, allergies and other risk factors into consideration.
A routine blood test will be ordered to check for the levels of certain types of fat, sugar, cholesterol, protein and other markers in the blood. They may also order a chest x-ray, an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram (ECG), a stress test, coronary angiography or magnetic resonance angioscopy (MRA).
Electron-Bean Computerized Tomography, or EBCT, though rarely used for diagnosis, can be an excellent predictor for incidents before they occur. EBCT checks for calcifications, or calcium deposits, in the walls of the coronary artery, the vessel that supplies the heart. Its presence signifies the potential for a heart attack.
Cerebrovascular Disease (CVD)
There is no single test that can determine whether or not you have CVD. Physicians will first take a complete medical history. During your physical, your physician will check for abnormal blood flow in the neck using a stethoscope. They will also check for specific neurological, motor and sensory signs that indicate CVD, such as abnormal eye movements, reflexes and vision.
Much like the heart, your physician might order cerebral angiography, an electroencephalogram (EEG), CT scans,a MRI, magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA), Doppler ultrasound or a lumbar puncture.
The rule of thumb when it comes to your cardiovascular health is to keep a steady flow of fresh fruits, vegetables, fiber and whole grains in your diet, avoiding excess in salt, sugar, (bad) cholesterol, calories and fat. The following will list a few helpful suggestions to help you maintain a heart-healthy diet today!
|Add these foods to your diet:||Eliminate these foods from your diet:|
Tips to Prevent & Treat Cardiovascular Disease
The bad news is that, according to some sources, the prevalence of heart disease in the US is on the rise, increasing from around 19.1% in 1999 to 24.9% in 2009. The good news is that they are both preventable and treatable. Some conditions are even reversible. The following will list a few tips to help keep that heart in shape!
Exercise regularly. Frequent exercise strengthens the body, boosts metabolism, burns calories, combats heart diseases… and more! Aerobic exercises also can make your blood more efficient, decreasing your blood pressure and heart rate to low levels, taking unnecessary stress away from your heart. Exercising in 30-minutes sessions everyday is ideal to promote general well-being.
Eat a variety of foods. Your food can act as remarkably as medicine or as destructively as poison. Consult with your physician or dietician for a customized dietary plan. Following the advice above, avoid bad fats and cholesterol, processed and fried foods, and foods rich in fat, sugar and salt. Emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes in your meals.
Limit the amount of food you eat per serving. No matter how many good nutrients you obtain from your food, too much of a good thing can be bad. Discourage obesity by limiting the amount you eat per serving, thus reducing the amount of calories you take in. Some ideas on proportion: half a cup of cooked rice or pasta, one ounce of cheese, one teaspoon of olive oil, three ounces of meat and a cup of raw vegetables/fruit all constitute one serving each.
Keeping to a regular eating schedule can help regulate food intake and promote weight loss. A large breakfast can also help boost your metabolism. Except for intermittent fasting, avoid skipping meals and eating excessively in the evening, as these habits might slow your metabolism or lead to excessive caloric intake without the opportunity to use them.
Emphasize mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Eliminate LDL cholesterol. Usually, the word cholesterol carries with it images of poor health. However, not all cholesterol is bad cholesterol. Incorporate ingredients with mono and polyunsaturated fats to help you lower your levels of LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol. A few sources of unsaturated fats are olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids.
Quit smoking. Smoking is detrimental to your health. Smokers are at a higher risk of developing fatty buildups in arteries that can result in heart attacks and strokes, cancer and respiratory issues. Smoking also puts extra stress on the heart by making elevating blood pressure and heart rate, making it work harder.
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol can increase high blood pressure, encourage obesity and make strokes more likely. Limit alcohol consumption to 1-2 servings per day for men and 1 serving per day for women. If alcohol induces an inflammatory response or you are at risk of developing alcoholism, you should avoid any serving of alcohol.
Relax. Relaxation and related techniques promote a lower heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing and muscle tension. It can increase concentration, blood flow and a general sense of wellbeing. Try yoga, tai chi, meditation or even just getting a massage.
Top Supplements for Cardiovascular Health
Always follow your physician’s recommendations when it comes to cardiovascular disease. However, the list of supplements below is believed by the medical community to confer many heart-friendly benefits. Because of the diversity in cardiovascular diseases, ensure with your physician and other sources that a particular supplement below does not have adverse effects on your condition.
- Fish oil
- Plant sterols
- Garlic extract
- Fiber (psyllium)
- Red yeast rice
- Green tea extract
- B-Complex vitamins (B6, B12, folic acid)
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin D
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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