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Healthy Heart

Page 1 of 4

Heart Health and Cardiovascular Health – What You Need To Know To Maintain a Healthy Heart

While often thought of as the same thing, heart and cardiovascular disease are different, involving different parts of your body.

· Heart disease refers only to diseases of the heart and the blood vessel system within the heart.

· Cardiovascular disease refers to diseases of the heart and diseases of the blood vessel system (arteries, capillaries, veins) within a person's entire body, such as the brain, legs, and lungs. "Cardio" refers to the heart and "vascular" refers to the blood vessel system.

A healthy heart is a strong, muscular pump slightly larger than your fist. When heart health is good, it pumps blood continuously through the circulatory system, the network of elastic tubes that allows blood to flow throughout your body. The circulatory system includes two major organs, the heart and lungs, and blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, and veins). Arteries and capillaries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart and lungs to all parts of the body. Veins carry oxygen and nutrient-depleted blood back to the heart and lungs. Heart and blood vessel problems do not happen quickly. Over time, the arteries that bring blood to the heart and brain can become blocked from a buildup of cells, fat, and cholesterol (plaque). Poor cardiovascular health results in reduced blood flow to the heart from blockages in the arteries which can cause heart attacks. Lack of blood flow to the brain from a blood clot, or bleeding in the brain from a broken blood vessel, causes a stroke.

Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a type of arteriosclerosis (or thickening and hardening of the arteries). As we age, some hardening of the arteries can occur naturally. When a person has atherosclerosis, the inner walls of the arteries become narrower due to a buildup of plaque. Plaque results from deposits of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. Blood clots form, blocking blood flow, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. High blood cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and not being physically active all put you at greater risk for atherosclerosis.

Coronary heart disease (or coronary artery disease). Coronary heart disease, the most common form of heart disease, affects the blood vessels (or coronary arteries) of the heart. It causes angina (chest pain) and heart attacks. Women over the age of 40 are more at risk for this disease because heart-related problems tend to increase with age. And, black women are more likely to die of coronary heart disease than are white women. The good news is that you can do something about preventing this disease. High blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and not being physically active all put you at greater risk for coronary heart disease.

Angina. A pain or discomfort in the chest that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood. It feels like a pressing or squeezing pain, often in the chest under the breastbone, but sometimes in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back. The most common trigger for angina is physical exertion. Other triggers can be emotional stress, extreme cold or heat, alcohol, and smoking. Angina seldom causes permanent damage to the heart, like a heart attack can. A heart attack happens when the blood flow to a part of the heart is suddenly and permanently cut off.

Stroke. Lack of blood flow to the brain from a blood clot, or bleeding in the brain from a broken blood vessel, causes a stroke. Without a good blood supply, brain cells cannot get enough oxygen and begin to die. You can also have what are sometimes called "mini strokes," or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), where no damage is done to the brain. But even though they do no damage, TIAs are serious and can put you at higher risk of having a full stroke. Not controlling high blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes all increase your risk for stroke.

High blood pressure (or hypertension). There are ways to measure blood pressure and medications to treat high blood pressure (by lowering it). A blood pressure reading measures the force of blood pumped from the heart against the walls of your blood vessels. It is recorded as two numbers: a top number of systolic pressure, or the pressure of blood in the vessels as the heart beats; and a bottom number of diastolic pressure, or the pressure of the blood between heart beats (when the heart rests). Although the average blood pressure reading for adults is 120/80, a slightly higher or lower reading (for either number) may not be a problem. High blood pressure is diagnosed when the reading consistently exceeds 140/90. It is often called a "silent" killer because it usually has no signs or symptoms. High blood pressure can cause heart failure in women, and can also lead to stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems. More than half of all women over age 55 suffer from this serious condition. And, it is more common and more severe in black women. Talk to your health care provider and get your blood pressure monitored regularly. If you have high blood pressure, diet, exercise, and medicine can help you to lower and control your blood pressure.

What increases my chances for getting heart and cardiovascular disease?


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