Heart disease is not an actual disease but a term used to describe a range of conditions that negatively affect your heart. The most common type of heart disease occurs when arteries narrow or become blocked, which can lead to heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.
What causes heart disease?
Atherosclerosis is a condition that occurs when fatty deposits, called plaque, develop in the arteries. When plaque builds up on arteries, the artery wall gets thick and hardens. The artery opening narrows, arteries clog, and less blood can flow to your organs and tissues.
If an artery to the heart or brain becomes blocked, you can have a heart attack or stroke. Over time, if your heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood, it weakens, which can lead to heart failure.
There are factors that increase your risk of developing atherosclerosis and heart disease, including:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
Can I prevent heart disease?
Yes! Heart disease is the most common health condition the United States and the leading cause of death for men and women. The good news is it’s also the most preventable.
Some risk factors for heart disease are not in your control. These include a family history of heart disease at a young age, race or ethnicity (African-Americans and Hispanics are at higher risk, for example).
But you can control other factors that put you at risk for developing the disease.
Although some people need medication to help control blood pressure and diabetes, lifestyle changes like these are usually the best medicine for keeping your heart and arteries strong and healthy:
- Quit smoking
- Eat a heart-healthy diet, high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol and added sugars
- Control blood pressure and cholesterol levels with exercise and healthy diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
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