disease is an all-inclusive term used to classify diseases that
affect the heart and blood vessels. The term cardiovascular disease
includes a long list of conditions–from aneurisms to varicose
veins. Sometimes a cardiovascular disease is congenital (with you
from birth), but many forms of cardiovascular disease develop as
you age as a consequence of poor health.
Cardiovascular disease is often the result of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis
is the gradual build up of fat and cholesterol on the walls of the arteries.
Atherosclerosis can eventually affect the blood's ability to flow through
the arteries. The build up on the arteries, called plaque, can rupture, which
can lead to a blood clot and block the flow of blood altogether. This will
cause a stroke or a heart attack.
Atherosclerosis usually doesn't cause symptoms until it severely
narrows or blocks an artery. That's why it is so important to keep
a close eye on your blood
pressure. Blood pressure is an indicator of atherosclerosis.
Severe atherosclerosis can cause a stroke or heart attack, as
well as severe damage to other organs throughout your body.
A heart attack occurs when a blood clot suddenly cuts off most or all blood
supply to a part of the heart. When this happens, the cells of the heart
do not receive enough oxygen-rich blood to survive, and they die. A heart
attack most often occurs as a direct result of atherosclerosis.
Time is essential when experiencing a heart attack. Time that
passes without treatment to restore blood flow is more time for
cells of the heart to die, and for permanent damage to occur.
|One common misconception is
that a woman is less likely to experience a heart attack than
a man. The truth is that heart attacks don't discriminate.
And women need to be able to identify the symptoms of a heart
attack immediately, and seek treatment. So, start believing
that a heart attack is just as likely to affect you as it is
your father, brother or husband in order to be prepared to
recognize the symptoms and act in time.
According to The American Heart Association, your body will
likely send one or more of the following warning signals if you
are experiencing a heart attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the
center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. The pain may
be mild or intense. It may feel like pressure, tightness, burning
or heavy weight. It may be located in the chest, upper abdomen,
neck, jaw, or inside the arms or shoulders.
- Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating,
nausea or shortness of breath.
- Anxiety, nervousness or cold, sweaty skin.
- Paleness or pallor.
- Increased or irregular heart rate.
- Feeling of impending doom.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important that you
get to the hospital immediately and seek medical attention for
a heart attack as soon as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, heart failure does not mean
that the heart has completely stopped working. Heart failure is
the term used to describe the condition when a heart is not working
as efficiently as it should. This can be caused by a number of
other heart problems, including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure
or a past heart attack. Heart failure affects approximately 2.5
million women–and that number is growing.
Symptoms of heart failure include:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent coughing or wheezing
- Buildup of excess fluid in body tissues, also called edema
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
If you experience any of these symptoms, you should take the right
steps toward better heart health. You may also ask your physician
about certain medical treatments and the effectiveness of certain
drugs in treating heart failure.
Heart Valve Disease
There are many different types of heart valve disease,
which affect the valves that control the flow of blood between
the chambers of the heart. Valve diseases on the right side of
the heart–resulting from diseases of the pulmonary and
tricuspid valve–are rare and are usually caused by congenital
heart problems. But valve diseases on the left side of the heart–resulting
from diseases of the aortic and mitral valves–are more
common and can lead to an accumulation of fluids in the lungs.
Valve diseases may be a consequence of narrowed valves, due to
atherosclerosis or other damage to the heart. Leaking valves are
often due to bacterial infections or inflammation, an enlargement
of the heart or mitral
Heart valve disease may often go on for years without any
signs or symptoms. And while some cases of heart valve disease
are not life threatening, others may become severe and carry health
risks. It's important to see your doctor regularly and take all
of the precautions you can to maintain a healthy heart. Symptoms
of more severe heart valve disease include:
Stroke is a cardiovascular disease because it originates
in the circulatory system, even though it ultimately affects the
brain. A stroke occurs when an artery ruptures or is blocked, causing
a decrease of blood supply to the brain.
Various symptoms may result from this type of blockage, including:
- Loss of vision
- Speech problems
- Severe headache
- Asymmetrical drooping in the face
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
TIA occurs when the symptoms of a stroke appear, but subside.
TIA is a stroke warning sign and should also be treated as a medical
emergency. If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms,
you need to treat it as a medical emergency and get to a hospital
as soon as possible. There is a short window of time surrounding
the onset of these symptoms that is best for treating stroke.
Immediately call 911 if you experience any of the following signs
of a TIA or stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of your face, arms or legs
- Sudden numbness in one side of the body
- Sudden severe headache
- Sudden loss of coordination or trouble walking
- Sudden dizziness
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden confusion
- Sudden trouble speaking or understanding
Risks and Prevention
Stroke is highly preventable. Many of the
leading risk factors for stroke can be avoided by maintaining a healthy,
active lifestyle. Preexistent cardiovascular disease often leads to stroke.
If you have been diagnosed with a cardiovascular disease, talk to your provider
about the steps you can take to prevent stroke.
Risk factors for stroke include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- High cholesterol
- Age (over 55)
- Family history
- Previous stroke
- Diet high in salt
Many studies have shown a higher incidence of stroke in African-American
women than in women of other races. More studies are needed to
determine a cause for this correlation. This risk for stroke is
significantly increased if you smoke while taking birth control,
especially after age 35.
There are many, many more variations of heart disease. Many are preventable
through maintaining a heart-healthy
lifestyle. Some are not preventable. Visit our Diseases
and Conditions pages to learn more about individual diseases.