Cardiovascular diseases are conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels that supply blood to the body. Cardiovascular diseases include heart attack (coronary heart disease), stroke (cerebrovascular disease) high blood pressure (hypertension) heart failure, arrhythmias, and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented; the major causes of cardiovascular diseases are smoking, lack of exercise and unhealthy diet.
Nine out of 10 heart disease patients have at least one risk factor for heart disease. A number of medical conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at higher risk. The major risk factors are: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and the use of cigarettes and alcohol. Prevention and treatment focus on controlling cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
High cholesterol doubles a person’s risk for heart disease. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that the body requires. But when there is an excess in the blood, it builds up on the walls of the blood vessels and chokes blood flow, which leads to heart attack and stroke. About one in six adults has high cholesterol. Lowering cholesterol—by exercising, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, or taking cholesterol-lowering medicines—reduces risk for heart attack and stroke in heart patients, and also reduces risk for developing heart disease.
High blood pressure is a primary cause of death due to heart attack and stroke and contributes to other cardiovascular diseases. Hypertension usually has no symptoms and many people do not realize they are at risk. Lowering high blood pressure with exercise, diet and medication reduces risks for heart attack and stroke, and also reduces risk for developing heart disease.
The American Heart Association offers information on heart-healthy lifestyles and programs for heart disease prevention and recovery.