TL;DR: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in US adults and prevalence is increasing.
Buildup of plaque inside the arteries can lead to heart attacks and strokes. You can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking.
Since the 1960s, American Heart Month has raised awareness about our cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease continues to be the leading cause of death among US adults. Globally, cardiovascular disease was responsible for an estimated 19 million deaths in 2020, which was an 18.7% increase from 2010 estimates. Healthcare costs for heart disease and related conditions are also going up- in the US in 2018 more than $400 billion was spent on care directly related to cardiovascular disease.
What is cardiovascular disease? Cardiovascular disease is any condition that affects the heart or blood vessels. Often these conditions are caused by a buildup of cholesterol, calcium and other materials on the inside walls of the blood vessels called arteries. The buildup is associated with inflammation resulting in a process called atherosclerosis. This plaque in the arteries and the inflammation associated with it causes slowing and sometimes blockage of blood flow to organs, which prevents necessary life-sustaining nutrients like oxygen from getting through. When this slowing of blood flow occurs in the arteries that supply the heart muscle, it’s called coronary artery disease. If a total blockage occurs, the heart muscle can be starved of nutrients and become damaged. This is called a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
A stroke can result when the same process happens in the arteries supplying blood to the brain. Because many of the same risk factors can lead to heart disease and strokes, we often talk about these conditions together.
What are risk factors for cardiovascular disease? Many things influence our risk for developing disease. These things are linked to an increased risk for poor cardiovascular health:
-Hypertension: blood pressure higher than 130/80
-Diabetes: fasting blood glucose higher than 126 mg/dL
-Abnormal cholesterol: LDL higher than 130, HDL lower than 40 for men/50 for women
-Being overweight: Body Mass Index (BMI) higher than 25
-Heavy alcohol use: in the US, more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. Other countries have different recommendations about alcohol use and health
-Being sedentary: getting less than 150 minutes per week of exercise
-Eating a diet high in saturated fats and processed foods
-Getting older – men older than 45 and women after menopause
-Family history of heart disease
Although this list looks scary, there is good news. Most of these risk factors are preventable or if recognized and treated early with lifestyle modifications and sometimes medications you can lower your lifetime risk. Regular visits with your health care provider can help you identify and reduce your own cardiovascular disease risk.
This February, Those Nerdy Girls will help tackle some of your questions about cardiovascular disease screening, symptoms, and prevention – stay tuned!
Stay Safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls
American Heart Association: Commemorating American Heart Month
American Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics