Cardiovascular Heart Disease

The leading cause of death in America, cardiovascular heart disease encompasses several distinct conditions of the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular). The heart is the most important organ of the body, pumping blood and oxygen-rich nutrients to the brain, lungs, and throughout the circulatory system. Similar to an engine that drives a car, this vital organ is a fist-sized, complex creation of valves and chambers which open and close to allow blood to ebb and flow with each beat. From just six weeks after conception, the organ plays a crucial role in supporting life. But cardiovascular heart disease can happen at any stage in development, depending on genetic and environmental factors. Conditions such as congenital defects, arrythmias, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), or inflammation can contribute to eventual failure or attacks. "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27).

While congenital disorders develop within the womb, cardiovascular heart disease may not be detected until babies are a year old. Infants may experience difficulty breathing due to the organ's inability to pump efficiently, or abnormal valve openings may create too much pressure and blood flowing to the lungs. Babies born with malformations which prevent oxygen from reaching the lungs may become blue in the face under stress, a term called "cyanosis." Cyanotic infants, or "blue babies," require surgery or heart catherization to repair arterial blockages, abnormal openings, or tears in valves. Murmurs, blockages and damage to arteries and ventricles may occur in fetuses of mothers that have been susceptible to viruses, genetic defects and malformations, or toxicity, or those who have habitually abused drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. Infants born with coronary defects may require additional surgery after organs mature, usually at the age of five or six. Until maturity, babies will be monitored by pediatricians and cardiologist and placed on medication to control symptoms. Some conditions heal without surgery as children develop physically under a doctor's care.

Congenital cardiovascular heart disease can plague children and teens in later years; and surgery may offer the only cure for infants born with malformations and dysfunctional organs. Infants and adults are susceptible to arrythmias, which are irregular or abnormal beats. A healthy heart beats from 60 to 100 times per minute; however an abnormally slow or fast rhythm indicates a potential problem. Patients that suffer from congestive heart failure may have faster beats as the organ struggles to pump blood to the lungs. Slower beats could indicate blockages or genetic defects. Most people with mild arrythmias can live normally and the condition does not require prolonged care or medication. Severe cases may require surgery; and x-rays and an electrocardiogram will detect the cause of abnormal beats or misfired electrical impulses from the organ. Individuals may suffer from cardiomyopathy, a condition which causes enlargement, thickening or hardening of muscle tissue. Enlargement or hardening may disrupt the heart's ability to pump blood efficiently. The lack of oxygen-rich blood can lead to other problems in the circulatory system, such as numbness in the hands and feet.

A prevalent cardiovascular heart disease is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Responsible for more than 25% of the annual mortality rate in the United States, atherosclerosis is a buildup of plaque, fatty deposits which adhere to arterial walls. Much like plumbing that gets clogged and stops the flow of water in a kitchen sink, plaque buildup clogs the flow of blood through major arteries and veins; and the results in the human body can be devastating. Not only does the disease cause coronary attacks, but it is a major factor in strokes and is responsible for the development of peripheral arterial disease (PAD) in over 8 million Americans. Stroke victims suffer from blockages which disrupt blood flow through the carotid arteries to the brain, and victims of PAD may develop blood clots which can travel to the lungs, causing pulmonary embolism or instant death. Other conditions caused by hardening of the arteries are abdominal aneurysms, a bulging of the arterial wall inside the stomach which can erupt, causing hemorrhaging and death; and in men, erectile dysfunction.

How does plaque build up in the arteries? Plaque can accumulate through a natural process of aging, spurred on by a high-cholesterol, high-fat diet. Teens that regularly consume double cheeseburgers and fries have no idea that eating fast foods could be a one-way ticket to cardiovascular heart disease in the adult years. Cardiologists stress a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and regular exercise to help prevent plaque buildup and cardiovascular heart disease. Individuals who experience symptoms of failure, congestion, arrythmias, or atherosclerosis should seek the advice of a medical doctor. Blood tests, x-rays, and electrocardiograms can determine the source and location of blockages, malformations, or abnormal valve openings. Difficulty breathing or exhaustion upon exertion or resting, numbness in the hands or feet, disorientation or mental confusion, an abnormally rapid or slow heart beat, or swelling in the legs may all be indications of cardiovascular disease.

Individuals should also be aware of the symptoms of coronary failure or attack, some of which may be difficult to detect. Males may experience crushing chest pain, profuse perspiration, nausea, and tightness in the left arm. Females may also experience chest pain, but possibly less severe than males. Symptoms for women can include pain along the jawline, perspiration, nausea, and pressure in the center of the chest. Cardiovascular heart disease, such as atherosclerosis, leading to strokes may cause symptoms such as blurred vision, disorientation, weakness on one side of the body, facial contortion, and slurred speech. Individuals experiencing signs of stroke or coronary attack should dial 911 and get help as soon as possible. In the event of an attack or stroke, time is of the essence; and even if victims are unsure of symptoms, it is best to be safe rather than sorry.

Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Cardiovascular risk factors are due to lifestyle choices, genetic disposition, and natural progression of life. The higher the cholesterol level the greater the probability of cardiac problems and stroke. Some risk factors for heart disease are widely known while others are uncommon or newly discovered, thus not widely known. It is the uncommon and newly discovered symptoms that are most serious because if they are left untreated the arteries become more clogged ultimately leading to cardiac arrest. Likewise, some contributing symptoms are unavoidable while others are completely avoidable.

Unavoidable characteristics leading to cardiac problems include age, sex (male or female), and heredity. On the other hand, smoking, poor choice in foods, lack of activity, and diabetes are all cardiovascular risk factors that can be changed. People over the age of 65 are automatically in greater danger of having these problems regardless of past health. In addition, certain ethnicities carry a higher possibility of such problems. These include: African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. If a person has one or more of these, an aggressive action plan should be put into place in order to avoid other characteristics that are avoidable. Careful evaluation of diet and exercise is crucial to overall wellness including cardiac health. Based on height, weight, and resting pulse rate, a maximum heart rate can be established and strived for during exercise. This accelerated heart rate will strengthen the body's cardiovascular system by increasing blood flow, thus lessening the chance of arterial wall build-up. Time management techniques can help an individual to find time to make healthy meals, get an appropriate amount of exercise in, and lower stress levels in order to lower cholesterol levels thus lessening overall risk. Evaluating responsibilities outside of a job can create a list of things to eliminate in life thus creating more time for relaxation and enjoyment in life.

Stress is a major contributor to many health problems across the board. Successful management of stress will lower a person's probability for disease increases drastically somewhat due to changes that happen as a result of lowered stress. Stress leads to overeating and poor lifestyle choices including smoking, drinking, and caffeine consumption. With the elimination of these threats, a person can live a much more comfortable, healthy, and risk-free life. Some doctors believe that moderate consumption of certain alcoholic beverages can be beneficial to prevention of this disease. Though this technique may work for some people, other individuals such as children and adolescents cannot use this treatment. Though children do not usually have drinking and smoking problems, second hand smoke and alcohol induced behavior in the adults around them can greatly affect their wellness. Obesity in children has become an epidemic in the United States, which contributes to risk factors for heart disease in adults as well as children. Poor eating habits and inactivity are major causes of obesity, which are also major causes of cardiovascular problems. Whole household goals in reducing fat intake, reducing sugar intake, and incorporating more fruits and vegetables into the diet will create a more successful environment that simply treating the person with cardiovascular risk factors. With an increasing morbidity rate in the United States, any factors, which may contribute to the onset of heart disease, should not be ignored. In addition to the above mentioned causes, problems occur due to hypertension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes mellitus. Proper habits learned in childhood can eliminate the onset and aggression of cardiovascular disease. "Let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity." (Job 31:6)

The onset of other diseases can occur when the same symptoms occur. These include hypertention, hyperinsulinemia, and homocysteinemia. All of these diseases are related to elevation in one or more changeable levels in the body. Understanding proper management and moderation of all activity will decrease risk factors for heart disease. Tracking contributing habits and environments can be as simple as keeping a diary of all actions and food consumed for a three-day period. This includes whether people smoked in the room and what other environmental factors were present. Major cardiovascular risk factors include social history, family history, and regular blood test results. Careful evaluation of medications either by prescription or over the counter should be evaluated as well. Understanding all side effects of any medications either medical or herbal should be discussed with a professional before prescription and consumption. Even seemingly harmless herbs or supplements can create a platform for immediate or delayed problems. Calculating personal Body Mass Index (BMI) offers a general measurement of visible cardiovascular risk factors. This number is created by a calculation of weight and height resulting in a scientific calculation of whether a person is overweight or underweight. Underweight individuals carry just as many risk factors for heart disease as overweight people, but lifestyle changes may not be as severe. Making needed changes in order to reduce current risk factors for heart disease can be difficult, but should not be drastic. It is important to remember that any change for the better is a step in the right direction. For instance: Choose grilled instead of fried and sugar free instead of sugar coated. In addition, an exercise plan can be established gradually over a long period of time. The focus should be on any motion in a positive direction. Likewise, rewards should be healthy alternatives, not trips to a fast food restaurant, candy, or a movie. Choose more positive alternatives such as a trip to the beach, homemade fruit smoothies, or a trip to the bookstore.

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