All evidence indicates that cardiovascular disease continues to be a top killer for Americans.
We’ve talked before about cardiovascular disease – heart disease – and some of the ways in which you can beat it. Today, let’s dig into the statistics about heart disease, and try to learn more about the underlying causes and what we can do about it.
1). The Cardiovascular Disease Body Count
Cardiovascular disease is the top killer, the leading cause of death, for men and for women in the United States. According to the CDC, it kills about 610,000 people a year – 1 in every 4 deaths.
Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, and it accounts for over 370,000 deaths out of the 610,000.
Additionally, about 790,000 Americans have a heart attack every year, and by far the most important cause is coronary artery disease.
These statistics are grim. What’s behind them?
2). Who is At Risk?
There are a number of different risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Three of the most important are 1) high blood pressure, 2) high cholesterol, and 3) smoking.
Some 49% of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors. However, there are other risk factors which can also contribute significantly to cardiovascular disease: diabetes; being overweight or obese; having a poor diet; a lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use.
Many of the above risk factors feed into high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, and thus may lead to cardiovascular disease.
3). Symptoms – What to Look For if You Might Have Cardiovascular Disease
Since cardiovascular disease describes a variety of conditions, there are a number of different symptoms to look for.
Some people experience pain, tightness, pressure, and discomfort in the chest, known as angina. Shortness of breath is another major symptom.
Sometimes people with heart disease suffer from pain, numbness, weakness, or coldness in the legs or the arms – this happens when the blood vessels in those areas become narrowed.
People also experience neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, and back pain as a result of cardiovascular disease.
There are also some general differences between men and women: where men are more likely to suffer from chest pain, women are more likely to suffer from shortness of breath, nausea, and extreme fatigue.
Whatever the case, if you or a loved one are suffering from any of these symptoms, seek professional medical advice.
Heart arrythmias are another cluster of symptoms. Fluttering in the chest, racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat, dizziness, and fainting or near fainting are a few symptoms you might experience if you have cardiovascular disease.
Whatever your symptoms, it’s a good idea to follow up with a doctor and get professional help. It’s in your best interest to make sure you catch heart disease as soon as possible for the best chances of treatment.
4). Treatment – How to Deal With Cardiovascular Disease
There are a great many different treatments for cardiovascular disease. They range in ease from lifestyle changes to medication to major surgery.
Taking a best-case scenario, if the patient’s condition is due to lifestyle issues rather than genetic issues and it is discovered early, lifestyle changes and perhaps a medication could result in a reversal of the issues causing the disease. In this scenario, it is easy to imagine that there would be no lasting damage.
In other cases, arteries blocked by plaque may require angioplasty, a surgery to open the arteries, or balloon valvuloplasty, a procedure which requires less cutting than traditional surgery. In more severe cases, heart bypass surgery may be necessary.
A procedure called cardioversion, or electrical cardioversion, uses electricity to restore normal rhythm in damaged heart muscle.
There are many other treatments for cardiovascular disease, and the treatment needed will depend on both the patient’s condition and how severe it is.
5). Prevention – Reducing Your Chances of Cardiovascular Disease
As frightening as cardiovascular disease is, there are a number of tried and true strategies for preventing it. Although some cases of heart disease are the result of congenital issues (birth defects), the vast majority are preventable because they are caused by lifestyle choices.
These same lifestyle choices can also play a very important role in helping to treat the condition.
As we saw above, smoking is one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This points to one of the most important strategies for preventing cardiovascular disease: quitting smoking.
Controlling other, potentially contributing health conditions is another way in which to prevent cardiovascular disease. In particular, it is important to control high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes, both through medications and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Eating a diet that is heart-healthy – in particular, low in salt and not fattening – is another important step.
Maintaining physical activity is also an important preventive strategy.
As the CRT Meeting for Interventional Cardiology states: “Preventing cardiovascular disease through appropriate health and fitness behaviors is always the optimal personal health plan.”
The reason cardiovascular disease continues to tragically claim so many American lives is that too many Americans are not maintaining good health. Through good diet, a modest amount of physical activity, and avoiding smoking and excessive drinking, most Americans can avoid cardiovascular disease.