What is Heart Disease?

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a leading killer of men and women in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals one in four Americans die of heart disease every year. With so much at stake, it’s smart to know the warning signs – along with ways you can reduce your risk.

Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease (CAD), is a number of conditions that affect the heart. It includes heart defects a child may have at birth, damage to blood vessels and arteries and heart rhythm problems.

Heart disease boosts a person’s risk for heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest. Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is blocked. During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating abruptly. When the heart stops, blood no longer flows to the brain and other organs.

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen after a heart attack. Most people who experience sudden cardiac arrest die within a few minutes without immediate emergency help to restart their heart. The majority of sudden cardiac deaths occur in men.

Could It Happen to Me?

The hard truth is that some risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, are unchangeable. Still, there are many risk factors that can be modified – at any age.

Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of the three main – and preventable – risk factors for heart disease:

Other risk factors include:

A poor diet and lack of exercise can cause plaque to form in arteries. Plaque buildup can begin as early as adolescence. This paves the way for a possible heart attack. Most people who die from heart disease are 65 or older, but nearly 20 percent are younger.

Death statistics are startling for both genders. In this country, nearly half of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have a heart attack die. The risk for heart attack in men increases after age 45. For women under age 50, heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal than for men.

How Can I Lower My Risk?

Love your heart. The American Heart Association recommends lots of ways to help keep it healthy:

  • Quit smoking
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Reduce blood cholesterol
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Move every day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage diabetes
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit alcohol

Talk with your doctor if you have any of the risk factors for heart disease. Together, set goals to help manage your condition.

Sources: About Heart Disease,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; Heart Disease Facts,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; Women and Heart Disease,   Texas Heart Institute, 2022; 8 Things You Can Do to Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke,   American Heart Association, 2019.

Originally published 2/17/2016; Revised 2019, 2022