Friday, March 9, 2007

Heart Disease: Introduction

Cardiovascular disease occurs when the heart and blood vessels cannot pump enough blood and supply enough oxygen to each of the body's organs. The main forms of CVD are coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke, in which a blood clot or a burst blood vessel starves the brain of oxygen. Early symptoms of a heart problem include angina - a specific type of chest pain that indicates the heart is not getting enough oxygen. Angina is usually due to the build up of fatty deposits e.g. cholesterol in a blood vessel.
The heart has to work harder to pump blood through the narrowed vessels, which increases blood pressure. Stress, hormones, fatty foods and toxins from cigarettes all affect the heart. In many cases, a healthy diet and regular exercise will reduce the chance of a heart attack. But genetic factors play a role too. There are a number of different medicines for heart disease. Some reduce cholesterol or blood pressure, others treat irregular heart rhythms. Surgery may be necessary. This can involve physically clearing blockages in blood vessels, bypass surgery or even a heart transplant.

Heart disease is a term that can refer to any condition that affects the muscle of the heart or the blood vessels around the heart. However, when most people talk about heart disease, they are referring to coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is a chronic disease in which the coronary arteries gradually harden and narrow. The condition is also referred to as coronary heart disease.

The statistics on CAD are sobering. It is the most common form of cardiovascular disease in the United States and the leading cause of heart attacks. It is the number one killer of American men and women, responsible for more than one of every five deaths in 2001, according to the American Heart Association.

Further, in 50 percent of men and 64 percent of women who die suddenly from CAD, there are no previous symptoms. Most recent statistics show CAD as the primary cause of premature and permanent disability among American workers. About 84 percent of people who die as a result of CAD are 65 or older.CAD, angina and cardiac ischemia

People with CAD tend to have periodic episodes in which the heart does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood (cardiac ischemia). A person may feel no symptoms during these episodes ("silent" ischemia) or might experience significant chest pain, pressure or discomfort. Such episodes are temporary, but if cardiac ischemia is severe or lengthy, it could trigger cardiac arrest (heart attack, a condition in which the heart stops beating) or heart failure.

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