What is Heart Disease? 

Did you know that heart disease is not just one disease, heart disease refers to numerous conditions that affect the heart? And believe it or not, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. Some of the conditions that fall under the umbrella of heart disease are coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, myocardial infarction and even congenital heart defects. Additionally, it should be noted that cardiovascular disease is another name for heart disease. 

Common Symptoms

One might be surprised to learn that the symptoms for heart disease differ between women and men. Often women with have chest pain, however it can likely be accompanied by fatigue, nausea and shortness of breath, whereas men commonly have chest discomfort. 
In general, common symptoms include, but are not limited to: 

• Chest discomfort, such as pressure, pain and tightness. 
• Pain in various part of the upper body, such as in the upper back or abdomen, as well as in the neck, jaw or throat. 
• Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing 
• Coldness, numbness, weakness and/or pain in the extremities. 
• Irregularly heartbeat. It could be a racing heart, or it could be slowed. 
• Paleness of the skin with a gray or blue hue. 
• Swelling, especially in the legs. 
Please note, this is not an exhaustive list. Symptoms depend of the type of heart disease one has and what it is caused by. 


The most common cause of heart disease is something called atherosclerosis. If you are not a doctor, that term simply describes the build up of plaque in one’s arteries. As this build up occurs, it thickens and stiffens, and will eventually inhibit the flow of blood through the arteries, which means tissues and organs go without. Thankfully, this condition is easily remedied as poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking contribute to it. However, some types of heart disease come from heart arrhythmia that one is born with, but this arrhythmia can also be caused by high blood pressure, drug abuse, stress and even excessive caffeine use. Interestingly, heart disease can even be caused by infections from bacteria, viruses or parasites in the body that can eventually reach the heart muscle. 

Risk Factors

Unfortunately, it is common to not be diagnosed with heart disease until one has a stroke or heart attack. Fret not though, preventative measures can be taken to avoid or treat numerous forms of heart disease. Knowing the risk facts and prevention methods for heart disease can help one understand how to protect themselves and keep themselves healthy. 
Risk factors include, but are not limited to: 
• Age – Older people are more likely to have damaged arteries or weakened heart muscles. 
• Gender – Men are typically at a greater risk. 
• Smoking – Heart attacks are common among smokers due to nicotine constricting blood vessels and carbon monoxide causing the smoker to become more susceptible to atherosclerosis. 
• Poor diet – This is a huge contribution factor. Overweight individuals are at a greater risk of heart disease. Diets that are high in fat, salt and sugar can increase one’s risk of developing the condition. 
• High blood pressure – This may be caused by poor lifestyle choices or genetics. 
• High cholesterol – This may cause more plaques to form and increase the risk of atherosclerosis. 
• Diabetes – This condition also has risk factors that parallel heart disease, such as high blood pressure and being overweight. 
While you cannot treat congenital heart defects, simple lifestyle changes can improve one’s health and lower their risk. Practice good hygiene to prevent viral or bacterial infections. One should take care of their body by quitting smoking, implementing a healthy diet and exercise regiment, as well as maintaining stress levels. Finally, other health conditions should be managed that can contribute to the risk of developing heart disease. Some examples include diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. 
Below are some terms one should familiarize themselves with to help understand heart disease more fully. 
• Cardiovascular disease – The medical term for heart disease. It can be used interchangeably. 
• Angina – Chest pain 
• Congenital – Present from birth 
• Arrhythmia – Irregular heartbeat 
• Heart Attack – Death of the heart muscle caused by lack of blood flow. 
• Stroke – Sudden death of some brain cells cause be loss of oxygen when blood flow to the brain becomes impaired or when an artery to the brain rupture. 

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