Cardiovascular Disease Overview
About This Condition
Cardiovascular disease is a wide-encompassing category that includes all conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. This introductory article briefly discusses several diseases that have a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. Many risk factors are associated with cardiovascular disease; most can be managed, but some cannot. The aging process and hereditary predisposition are risk factors that cannot be altered. Until age 50, men are at greater risk than women of developing heart disease, though once a woman enters menopause, her risk triples.1
Many people with cardiovascular disease have elevated or high cholesterol levels.2 Low HDL cholesterol (known as the “good” cholesterol) and high LDL cholesterol (known as the “bad” cholesterol) are more specifically linked to cardiovascular disease than is total cholesterol.3 A blood test, administered by most healthcare professionals, is used to determine cholesterol levels.
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) of the vessels that supply the heart with blood is the most common cause of heart attacks. Atherosclerosis and high cholesterol usually occur together, though cholesterol levels can change quickly and atherosclerosis generally takes decades to develop.
The link between high triglyceride levels and heart disease is not as well established as the link between high cholesterol and heart disease. According to some studies, a high triglyceride level is an independent risk factor for heart disease in some people.4
High homocysteine levels have been identified as an independent risk factor for heart disease.5 Homocysteine can be measured by a blood test that must be ordered by a healthcare professional.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and the risk increases as blood pressure rises.6 Glucose intolerance and diabetes constitute separate risk factors for heart disease. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease caused by hypertension.
Abdominal fat, or a “beer belly,” versus fat that accumulates on the hips, is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.7Overweight individuals are more likely to have additional risk factors related to heart disease, specifically hypertension, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes.
People with cardiovascular disease may not have any symptoms, or they may experience difficulty in breathing during exertion or when lying down, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting, depression, memory problems, confusion, frequent waking during sleep, chest pain, an awareness of the heartbeat, sensations of fluttering or pounding in the chest, swelling around the ankles, or a large abdomen.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Both smoking8 and exposure to secondhand smoke9 increase cardiovascular disease risk.
Moderate exercise protects both lean and obese individuals from cardiovascular disease.10
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.