What Really Is Cardiovascular Disease?
With cardiovascular disease being the biggest killer in the world, it’s important to know its causes, the risk factors for cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, and what you can do to decrease your risk. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to all the diseases of the heart and circulation, including coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart attack, congenital heart disease and stroke. The main cause of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up in the arteries.
The Heart Is An Electrical System:
Your heart's electrical wiring keeps it beating. Your heartbeat controls the continuous exchange of oxygen-rich blood with oxygen-poor blood. This exchange keeps you alive.
- The SA node (called the pacemaker of the heart) sends out an electrical impulse.
- The upper heart chambers (atria) contract.
- The AV node sends an impulse into the ventricles.
- The lower heart chambers (ventricles) contract or pump.
Electrical signals begin high in the upper right chamber (right atrium) and travel through specialized pathways to the ventricles, delivering the signal for the heart to pump. This system keeps your heart beating in a co-ordinated and normal rhythm, which keeps blood flowing.
What is atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a disease process in which fatty deposits (known as plaques) build up in the walls of arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body). These plaques are made up of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood).
Over time, plaques can continue to develop size and harden, narrowing arteries and restricting the blood flow. These fatty plaques can also break open (rupture), triggering potent clot formation (thrombosis) that can further limit, or even block, the flow of oxygen- rich blood to organs and other parts of the body.
Atherosclerosis can occur in arteries anywhere in the body but is most serious when it leads to a reduced or blocked blood supply to the heart or to the brain. If it occurs in one of the two main coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart, this results in a heart attack. When thrombosis occurs in one of the arteries to the brain, it causes a stroke. If it occurs in arteries in the limbs, it can lead to peripheral artery disease.
Some risk factors are beyond our control include age, gender, family history and ethnicity, but much of the burden caused by Cardiovascular Disease is preventable. Simple lifestyle changes can help manage or prevent risk factors.
- Age: Growing older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and a weakened or thickened heart muscle
- Sex.: Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. The risk for women increases after menopause.
- Family history: A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister).
- Smoking: Smoking damages the arteries that supply blood to your heart and body. Nicotine tightens your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in non-smokers and increases the risk of stroke and peripheral artery disease.
- Poor diet:A diet that's high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure means that blood is pumping with more force than normal through the arteries. This can speed up clogging of the arteries with fatty plaques (atherosclerosis). Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows.
- High blood cholesterol levels: When there is too much cholesterol in the body, it builds up in the walls of the arteries and plaque formation occurs, making it harder for blood to flow through. The main cause is eating foods high in saturated and trans fats.
- Diabetes.Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure. People with diabetes are over twice as likely to develop CVD as those without, while people with CVD are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
- Obesity.: Excess weight typically worsens other heart disease risk factors and puts an extra strain on the body and heart, increasing risk of a range of health problems, including CVD.
- Physical inactivity:Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors as well. Regular physical activity helps to control other risk factors for CVD, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and being overweight. It can also be good for mood, and mental and overall physical health.
- Stress: Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.
- Poor dental health.It's important to brush and floss your teeth and gums often and have regular dental check-ups and hygienist teeth cleans. If your teeth and gums aren't healthy, germs can enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart, causing endocarditis.
- Excessive alcohol: Excessive alcohol intake is linked to many chronic conditions such as CVD, as well as other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
- Depression & stress: People with depression, who are socially isolated or who lack a good support network can be at greater risk of developing CVD. High stress levels can also increase risk.
- Inactivity:Regular physical activity helps to control other risk factors for CVD, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, and being overweight. It can also be good for mood, and mental and overall physical health.
- Poor nutrition:The body and the heart need a good range of vitamins, minerals and nutrients for proper functioning.
- Smoking: Smoking damages the arteries that supply blood to your heart and body. It increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
Symptoms of heart disease in your blood vessels:
A build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries, or atherosclerosis can damage your blood vessels and heart. Plaque build-up causes narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.
Coronary artery disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain. Women are more likely to have other signs and symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.
Signs and symptoms can include:
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back
You might not be diagnosed with coronary artery disease until you have a heart attack, angina, stroke or heart failure. It's important to watch for cardiovascular symptoms and discuss concerns with your doctor. Cardiovascular disease can sometimes be found early with regular evaluations.
Lifestyle changes can improve your cardiovascular health & heart disease can help you prevent it, including:
- Don't smoke.
- Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
- Eat a diet that's low in salt and saturated fat.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce and manage stress.
- Practice good hygiene.
- Detox your body
People at risk of developing atherosclerosis should be tested if possible. Early detection and the implementation of a management plan can help to prevent its progression.