Heart Disease Basics

Heart disease is a serious condition that is, unfortunately, very common. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and woman. When heart disease is present, blood is not flowing to the heart, or other organs, the way it should. That can lead to additional problems such as heart attack or stroke.

The term “heart disease” includes conditions such as:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Heart failure
  • Angina
  • Arrhythmia
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

Risk factors

There are a number of factors that can put you at risk for heart disease. You can see that some of these things are out of your control such as age and heredity. But there are also risk factors that you can control by making healthy choices.

  • Age (particularly women 55 or older)
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy
  • Unhealthy diet

Also, some ethnic groups are more likely to get heart disease. This includes African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics.

Steps you can take

Following a healthy lifestyle can help protect your heart and also help prevent a variety of other health problems. Here are a few tips that are basic but powerful.

Quit smoking.

Have you tried to quit but slipped back? Don’t give up. It sometimes take a few tries before it sticks. And if you don’t smoke, don’t start.

Eat healthy foods.

Focus on fruits, veggies and foods that are low in saturated fat and high in fiber.

Maintain a healthy weight.

Losing excess pounds is good for your heart. Ask your doctor what weight is right for you.

Exercise regularly.

For safety’s sake, talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level, especially if you have a health condition. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly. Most healthy adults should aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise a week. Add strength exercises on two or more days a week.