Causes and Risks of Heart Disease
Heart disease is an illness that you will live with for the rest
of your life. You may not show symptoms of the disease at certain times. Heart
disease is sometimes called “coronary heart disease” or “CHD.” It is the
leading cause of death among adults in the United States, according to the National Heart, Lung,
and Blood Institute (NHLBI). If you learn about the causes and risk factors of the disease,
you may avoid heart problems that cause death.
Causes of Heart Disease
Heart disease occurs when the arteries and blood vessels that
lead to the heart are blocked or not carrying blood correctly. When this
happens, important nutrients, such as oxygen, cannot reach your heart. Arteries
and blood vessels can be blocked because of medical conditions and lifestyle
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
High cholesterol creates plaque.
Plaque is a waxy substance that gathers in your blood vessels and slows the passing
of nutrients to your heart. Nicotine can keep your heart from receiving oxygen
and causes your blood vessels to narrow.
If your blood pressure and cholesterol are at normal levels, you
may slow or even stop the development of heart disease. If you adjust your
lifestyle by exercising and following a healthy diet, you may reduce your risk
factors for heart disease. Talk to your doctor about developing an exercise
routine and diet that’s appropriate for your age, weight, and overall health.
Several risk factors play an important role in determining
whether or not you’re likely to develop heart disease. Two of these factors, age
and heredity, are out of your control. The risk of CHD increases around the age
of 55 in women and 45 in men. Your risk may be greater if you have close family
members who have a history of heart disease. Family history is just one piece
in the heart disease puzzle, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC).
If you lead a healthy lifestyle, you can minimize the following
- insulin resistance or diabetes
- high cholesterol and blood pressure
Talk with your doctor or a nutritionist to learn how to have a more
heart-healthy diet. Eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help
you reach your ideal weight and stabilize your blood pressure, cholesterol, and
blood glucose levels. Your doctor can help you quit smoking and suggest ways for
you to become more active in a way that’s safe for your condition.
>Link Between Heart Disease and Diabetes
The link between heart disease and diabetes may mean serious
health problems for some people. The National Diabetes
Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) estimates that people with diabetes, and especially
those who have reached middle age, have twice the possibility of experiencing
heart disease or stroke as people who do not have diabetes. Adults with
diabetes tend to have heart attacks at a younger age and are more likely to
experience more heart attacks if they have insulin resistance or high blood
The reason for this is the relationship between glucose and
blood vessel health. High blood glucose levels that aren’t managed can increase
the amount of plaque that forms within the walls of the blood vessels,
hindering or stopping the flow of blood to the heart.
If you have diabetes, you can reduce the risk of heart disease
by managing your blood sugar carefully and following a diabetes-friendly diet
that’s rich in fiber and low in sugar, fat, and simple carbohydrates. You
should also maintain a healthy weight. If you smoke, stop. This can prevent
heart disease, eye disease, and circulation problems.
It’s normal to experience depression after a heart attack, but if
your sadness begins to affect your daily life or causes you to become unable to
cope with everyday tasks, you may need treatment. Depression can slow the
recovery process. It can also have a negative effect on heart health in people
who don’t have heart disease.
Depression can lead to a number of changes in your body that can
increase your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack. Too
much stress and sadness can elevate your blood pressure and your levels of a
substance called C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is a marker for inflammation in
the body. Higher-than-normal levels of CRP may indicate heart disease.
Talk with your doctor about your depression if you feel hopeless
and isolated several weeks after a heart event. Contact your doctor immediately
if you feel suicidal. Professional help can get you back on the track to good
health and may lessen the possibility of recurring problems.
Heart Disease in Pregnancy
Heart disease and pregnancy can be a dangerous mix for both mother
and child. During a normal pregnancy, blood volume increases by approximately
half, putting a strain on even a healthy heart. A diseased heart may have
difficulty pumping the additional blood throughout the body during gestation
and can be weakened by the demands of labor and delivery.
Some women may have underlying heart defects that remain unknown
until the strain of pregnancy causes the condition to appear. Consult your
primary care physician or obstetrician if you’re pregnant and display some of these
- breathing difficulties that are not related to the baby’s
- heart palpitations — irregular or skipped heartbeats
- lightheadedness or fainting
- “clicking” sounds with each heartbeat
- bluish tint to your lips or fingertips (cyanosis)
Based on your symptoms and medical history, your doctor will
perform tests to determine if your heart is functioning normally. Some heart
conditions, such as stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve) require
antibiotics and intensive care during and after delivery to prevent infection. If
you have more serious heart conditions such as unrepaired defects in your heart
chambers, your doctor may advise you not to become pregnant. If you had heart
disease before conceiving, discuss your health with a physician as part of the
family planning process to help you have a healthy pregnancy and baby.