From the internet to the nightly news, there’s a lot of information out there on heart health. Discussion topics range from heart disease risk factors to eating a heart-healthy diet, warning signs of heart attacks and much more.
There’s a reason why the topic gets so much attention: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is responsible for about 650,000 deaths each year in the United States. That’s about one in four adult deaths. Heart disease facts like these are the reason why knowing your risk factors and taking steps to lead a healthy lifestyle are so important.
So what else should you know about heart disease? Learn the facts as we answer some frequently asked questions.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease actually isn’t one condition but several. It’s a broad umbrella term describing a variety of conditions that affect your heart’s ability to move blood around your body. We often group heart disease into a few broad categories based on what’s causing the heart problems.
Types of heart disease
Circulatory heart disease
Circulatory heart disease is also called coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease and ischemic heart disease. This type of heart disease is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle and other parts of your body.
If you have circulatory heart disease, your blood doesn’t circulate through the body in the way it should. Over time, plaque buildup can narrow the arteries or cause a blockage that obstructs blood flow, which can result in chest pain or a heart attack. Circulatory conditions are the most common types of heart disease.
Electrical heart disease
Electrical heart disease is when you have heart rhythm problems and issues with how your heart beats. Electrical heart disease, or arrhythmia, is when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heartbeats don’t work right. As a result, your heart may beat too fast, too slow or in an irregular pattern. Types of electrical heart disease include tachycardia, bradycardia and atrial fibrillation.
Heart valve disease
What is heart valve disease, exactly? It’s when there’s a problem with one or more of the four valves that control how blood moves inside your heart.
When you have a valve disease, your valve may not open and close correctly, causing blood flow blockages or backflow through the valves. Aortic stenosis and mitral regurgitation are some of the most common types of valvular heart disease.
Muscular heart disease
Muscular heart disease, also called cardiomyopathy, involves issues with the muscle tissue in your heart, making it difficult for your heart to pump blood effectively.
Congenital heart disease
What is congenital heart disease? It’s a condition where there are heart defects present at birth. Depending on the type and severity of the defect, congenital heart defects can affect the function of the heart in different ways. Some can be quite minor like a small hole in the heart. Others can be more severe, for example when the heart is missing vital structures.
Infants with severe heart defects usually need pediatric cardiac surgery or other procedures during the first 12 months of their lives. Minor defects usually don’t need to be repaired. And people with minor defects may not have symptoms related to the defect even when they are adults.
What is congenital heart disease?
Most of the time, there’s no definite reason. However, they are thought to be caused by inherited genes and environmental factors.
A person with a heart defect may be at greater risk of other heart disease such as electrical heart disease, muscular heart disease and infections in the heart muscle.
What is congestive heart failure and how does it fit in?
Congestive heart disease, usually called congestive heart failure, is not a broad category of heart conditions but a specific condition. Heart failure happens when your heart doesn’t pump as well as it should. This can be caused by almost any type of heart disease where the heart is unable to meet the demands put upon it.
What causes heart disease?
When looking at what can cause heart disease, there are many possible reasons, including lifestyle factors, your family history, infections and more.
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
People often ask what the leading cause of heart disease is. Because heart disease involves so many different conditions, it’s hard to point to a single cause. But there are some risk factors that make it more likely that you’ll have heart disease, including:
- High cholesterol levels
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Not enough exercise
- Poor diet
- Smoking and vaping
- Extremely high stress levels
Is heart disease genetic?
If you have a family history of heart problems, you may be more likely to develop heart disease. Some conditions – like arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy and heart defects – can be inherited. If you know that a relative was diagnosed with heart disease, having regular check-ins with your doctor can help spot potential issues early.
How to prevent heart disease
Not all types of heart disease can be prevented, but the most common type, circulatory heart disease, is largely preventable. This type of heart disease doesn’t happen overnight, and usually there are early signs that you may be at risk of heart disease.
Some of the earliest signs of heart disease can be high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Without treatment, these early signs can lead to bigger problems like plaque buildup in your vessels, stiff arteries and heart attacks.
That’s why working with your doctor to identify problems and manage your health is so important. Here are some of the best ways to reduce your chance of getting heart disease:
- Get your preventive care: A great way to stay on top of your heart health is to keep current with preventive health care such as annual exams and health screenings. By meeting regularly with your primary care doctor, you’ll be better able to track your risk factors for heart disease.
- Get regular exercise: Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days.
- Eat a balanced diet: Eat a heart-healthy diet filled with fruits, vegetables and whole grains to lower blood pressure and help improve cholesterol naturally. Also try to stay away from foods high in salt, saturated fats and added sugars.
- Eliminate tobacco use: If you smoke or vape, quitting is one of the best things you can do to keep your heart healthy.
- Reduce stress: If you’re always stressed out, find ways to relax. Getting enough sleep and exercise can make a big difference. Also consider listening to soothing music and practicing mindfulness.
Can you reverse heart disease?
But what if you already have heart disease? Is there anything you can do?
Absolutely, and the steps to prevent heart disease are the same ones you can use to reverse or slow down the progression of the disease. But to get good results you’ll need to be committed to a heart-healthy diet, stick with an exercise routine, keep to a healthy weight and stop smoking.
With the right changes, it may be possible to reverse the narrowing of your arteries due to plaque buildup. This is great news because plaque buildup can lead to heart attacks. And if you’ve already had one, you may be able to prevent another heart attack.
Of course, the easiest way to treat heart disease is stop it before it happens, and that means lowering your risk by making smart lifestyle choices in areas known to contribute to heart disease.
Take the next steps toward good heart health
By making some lifestyle adjustments now, you can help avoid heart disease problems down the road. If you need help or guidance on where to start, it’s a great idea to connect with your primary care doctor for advice about how to add good habits into your routine that will lead to your best heart health.
If you haven’t visited lately, set up an appointment with one of our primary care doctors today. No matter who you are or where you’re at in life, it’s never too early to prevent heart disease and promote heart wellness.