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Cardiovascular Health

What’s the Problem?

Cardiovascular disease refers to several types of conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, also known as the circulatory system. Some common cardiovascular diseases and conditions include heart disease, stroke and hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States, major causes of disability and the principal causes of cardiovascular disease death.

Who’s at Risk?

Although cardiovascular disease affects people of all ages, races and backgrounds, there are certain chronic conditions and lifestyle factors that put people at a higher risk. For example, high blood pressure, diabetes and high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL-cholesterol), also known as “bad cholesterol,” are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use, a poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity and alcohol abuse can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other vascular conditions. In some cases, people with a family history of cardiovascular disease share common environments and risk factors that increase their likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. Combine those genetic factors with unhealthy lifestyle choices, and the risk of cardiovascular disease increases even more.

Can It Be Prevented?

There are several things people can do to prevent cardiovascular disease – and it starts with making healthy choices and managing medical conditions. This includes:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Focus on foods low in sodium, added sugar, and saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Regular Exercise. Physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight and lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Not smoking. Cigarette smoking has a great impact on the risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Limiting Alcohol Use. Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure.

It is also important for individuals with existing medical conditions that affect cardiovascular health to manage and treat these conditions with the help of their doctor, nurse or other health care professional. Monitoring cholesterol levels, blood pressure and managing conditions such as diabetes can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The Bottom Line

  • Cardiovascular health refers to the health of the heart and blood vessels, also known as the circulatory system
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and stroke are common cardiovascular conditions and diseases
  • People of all ages and backgrounds are at risk for poor cardiovascular health
  • Prevention of cardiovascular disease is possible and dependent on the control of various risk factors, including unhealthy lifestyle habits and preexisting medical conditions
  • Genetic factors can also contribute to poor cardiovascular health
  • It is important to have an open dialogue with health care providers about the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Case Example

Josh is 25 years old when his father dies of a heart attack. His dad was a smoker, rarely exercised and had a love affair with fast food. Josh discusses his cardiovascular health with his doctor a few months later. He may not be a smoker, but he enjoys drinking frequently and eats unhealthy food daily. He tries to go to the gym at least once a week, but rarely meets his goal. Josh wants to do anything he can to better his health. After a physical examination, Josh learns both his cholesterol level and blood pressure are high. His physician discusses the steps he can take to diminish his risk for cardiovascular disease.  Josh begins to exercise 30 minutes on most days, limits his alcohol consumption, and begins to incorporate healthy meals into his diet. At his yearly physical, his doctor informs him his health has improved substantially, which encourages him to continue with his healthy habits.

  • Page last reviewed: September 15, 2017
  • Page last updated: September 15, 2017
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