When you speak about cardiovascular disease, you are discussing not one specific disease but a whole range of diseases that affect your heart or the blood vessels. These diseases include heart attack, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart failure, and stroke (which does not include the heart but still involves the arteries). In practice, cardiovascular diseases are treated by cardiologists, vascular surgeons, and neurologists, depending primarily on what organ is affected. Since cardiovascular diseases tend to have similar causes and mechanisms, there is a tendency to overlap in specialties and it is not uncommon for a procedure to be performed by several specialists in one hospital.
Cardiovascular diseases are a great risk, especially to people living in Western countries. In the United States alone, cardiovascular problems are the number one cause of death according to a survey done in 2007. Heart diseases alone caused 30% of the deaths, while the other cardiovascular diseases caused substantial death and disability.
Causes of Cardiovascular Diseases
While there are many diseases that fall under the umbrella of the term cardiovascular disease, the term is mostly used to describe the damage caused to your heart or blood vessels by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the chronic inflammation of the walls of your arteries, mostly due to the accumulation of fats and cholesterol. It leads to a narrowing of the arteries, resulting in less blood to the organs. Since arteries are responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygenated blood to the the organs, a hardening and blockage of them will lead to complications and health issues. Accumulated plaques may also break off, totally blocking blood flow to the organs, which is more severe. If atherosclerosis affects the arteries leading to the heart, you may develop a heart attack. If the blockage occurs in the arteries to the brain, you will have a stroke.
The usual suspects for atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases remain the same: unhealthy diet, unhealthy lifestyle, being overweight, and smoking. All the risks and causes of various cardiovascular and heart conditions are almost always the same, since the system tends to have the same mechanism. Conversely, their treatment and prevention are also similar.
Types of Cardiovascular Diseases
The cardiovascular system is made up of your heart and the blood vessels all around your body. Diseases such as aneurysm or stroke are still considered cardiovascular in nature even if they’re nowhere near the heart since they involve the arteries. Cardiovascular diseases can be congenital (meaning you’re born with them) or you may acquire them later in life. There are many types of cardiovascular diseases. The most common are:
- Heart Attack. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot obstructs or cuts off the flow of blood through the coronary artery. The artery is any of the blood vessels that feed blood to any part of a heart muscle. When blood flow is interrupted, it damages or destroys a part of the heart muscle, causing it to function improperly. The medical term for heart attack is “myocardial infarction”.
- Aneurysm. An aneurysm is any bulge in a blood vessel wall. Over they, they get bigger and they have the potential to rupture, causing life-threatening bleeding. Anurysm can occur anywhere in your body, although the common is the abdominal aorta and the arteries at the base of the brain.
- High blood pressure. Your heart is constantly pumping blood throughout your body. The pressure needed for this function is usually regulated and maintained. When the force gets to be too excessive, you will have high blood pressure.High blood pressure is the most common cardiovascular problem today. Although it can potentially be life-threatening, it is also very treatable and preventable. High blood pressure can lead to other cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure and stroke and that is what makes it dangerous.
- Heart failure. When your heart can’t pump enough blood to support the various organs of your body, you will have heart failure. The signs and symptoms usually include shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention. It can develop suddenly, or over the years. It can also be the result of another cardiovascular disease that caused the heart to function below the normal level.
- Stroke. When blood flow to the brain is interrupted, or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, you will develop a stroke. Both are very serious and will cause the death of cells in the immediate area. Stroke is both considered a neurological and cardiovascular disorder because it causes many complications.
Getting Rid of Cardiovascular Diseases
Most of the diseases under the cardiovascular umbrella are very treatable and, most importantly, preventable. Since the diseases tend to have roughly similar causes, you can take several steps that will effectively decrease or eliminate their symptoms.
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases blood pressure by at least five to 10 mmHg, as well as induce secondary cardiovascular problems. Nicotine creates spikes in both blood pressure and heart. Smoking also causes the arteries to constrict, decreasing blood flow and increasing pressure.
- Exercise. The importance of exercise on your cardio-respiratory system cannot be stressed enough. Exercise makes your blood flow more freely throughout your body. It widens the arteries so the blood will have more room to flow in improving your overall circulation and relieving built up pressure. Exercise also helps you control cholesterol and reduce weight—two important factors in reducing the risk of cardiovascular problems.
- Eat a healthy diet. One of the leading contributing factors of atherosclerosis is bad cholesterol. It builds up inside the artery walls, obstructing the flow of blood and increasing pressure. In order to reduce or stop cholesterol build up, improve your diet. Eat foods that are low in saturated fats such as vegetables, fruits, and fish. Lay back on dairies, eggs, and other fatty foods. Eating a balanced diet will also cause you to check your weight, preventing obesity.
- Watch your weight. Obesity is one of the leading causes of hypertension and heart problems. Obese people also have higher levels of insulin, and excess insulin leads to an elevated blood pressure. Obesity also contributes to higher levels of cholesterol, which usually leads to heart attacks and atherosclerosis. The more fat you have, the more your heart has to pump out blood, and the more there is an increase of pressure.
It is important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle both in dealing and preventing cardiovascular problems. Being the leading cause of death in the world, going the extra mile to take care of your heart and blood vessels will result in the best reward you can possibly have: your life.
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