Heart Disease: America’s Leading Cause of Death

Committing to a heart healthy diet and engaging in other preventative methods that reduce your risk of heart disease can help you to take charge of your life and prevent yourself from becoming another statistic. Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, is America’s leading cause of death. Each year, it is estimated that 610,000 people die of heart disease, one in every four deaths, in the United States. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 735,000 Americans experience a heart attack each year.

While heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men in women, heart disease is especially prevalent in men. In 2009 alone, more than half of all deaths related to heart disease occurred were in men.

Eating heart healthy foods and engaging in other preventative measures can reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Early detection of heart disease is key as there are several effective treatment options that can reduce the risk of stroke and improve overall heart health. Therefore, it is important to learn more about the symptoms associated with heart disease, the types of heart disease, the risk factors that contribute to heart disease and how you can reduce your risk of developing the disease.

Symptoms of Heart Disease

The causes of heart disease vary by the type of heart disease that a person suffers from. The term “heart disease” umbrellas a number of different serious heart related conditions, including blood vessel disorders, heart rhythm conditions and heart defects. Most heart related conditions are preventable through healthy lifestyle choices.

A common heart disease in women and men is atherosclerotic disease, a disease affecting the blood vessels within the body. Like most forms of heart disease, atherosclerotic disease can lead to a heart attack or stroke if left untreated. Common symptoms of atherosclerotic disease include:

  • Chest pain, pressure, discomfort or tightness.
  • Frequent shortness of breath.
  • Pain, coldness, weakness or numbness in a limb.
  • Persistent pain within the back, upper abdomen, jack, neck or throat.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Nausea.  

One common cause of heart disease is arrhythmias. This form of cardiovascular disease causes the heart to beat too slowly, too quickly or irregularly. The most common symptoms associated with arrhythmias include:

  • Frequent bouts of dizziness.
  • Persistent shortness of breath.
  • Lightheadedness or nausea.
  • A “fluttering” type of feeling within your chest.
  • Slow or racing heartbeat.
  • Chest discomfort or pain.
  • Fainting.

Congenital heart defects are rare in adults as heart defects are commonly discovered shortly after birth or in young children. Heart defects that are not discovered in infancy are not only rare, but generally less serious. However, defects can still cause serious complications in adulthood. Congenital heart defect symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Pale gray or bluish skin tones.
  • Swelling around the eyes or swelling that occurs in the abdomen or legs.
  • Poor weight gain in infants.
  • Shortness of breath during feeding in infants.
  • Tiring easily during light activity or exercise.
  • Shortness of breath that is brought on easily.
  • Swelling that occurs around a person’s ankles, feet or hands.

Another common cause of heart disease is dilated cardiomyopathy. This form of heart disease affects and weakens the muscles of the heart. In the early stages of dilated cardiomyopathy, it is unlikely to experience any types of signs or symptoms. However, as the condition worsens, certain symptoms may be present, including:

  • Breathlessness when at rest.
  • Persistent fatigue.
  • Irregular heartbeats, including a heart that is rapid, pounding or fluttering.
  • Swelling within the feet, ankles or legs.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.

While not as common, heart disease that is caused by an infection is referred to as endocarditis. An infection within the heart will affect the inner membrane of the heart that separates the various chambers and valves. The condition can quickly become very serious and lead to stroke, heart attack or death. Common symptoms of endocarditis include:

  • Fever.
  • Skin rashes and unusual spots on the surface of the skin.
  • Changes in the heart’s rhythm.
  • Swelling within the abdomen or legs.
  • Persistent weakness or fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.

Finally, causes of heart disease can also be related to valvular heart disease. Valvular heart disease occurs when the valves within the heart become damaged. This can occur due to a number of other conditions. Once the valves within the heart become damaged, they may leak, close improperly or narrow. Symptoms vary strongly in valvular heart disease, but may include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Fainting.
  • Persistent shortness of breath.
  • Persistent chest pain.
  • Irregular heartbeats.
  • Swelling within the ankles or feet.

Leading Causes of Heart Disease

Before exploring heart disease prevention options, it is important to learn who is at the greatest risk of developing heart disease. By doing so, you may gain a better understanding of the lifestyle habits that are contributing to your overall risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Heart risk factors vary by each type of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is important to review risk factors of the most common heart diseases.

The most common cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular disease that affects the body’s blood vessels. While a family history does affect a person’s likelihood of developing the disease, atherosclerosis is primarily brought on by unhealthy lifestyle choices, including:

  • An unhealthy diet, including diets that are high in sodium, cholesterol or fat.
  • Sedentary lifestyles and an overall lack of exercise.
  • Obesity.
  • Tobacco use.

Smoking and heart disease tend to go hand in hand. In fact, smoking and obesity are considered the highest risk factors when it comes to atherosclerosis disease.  

A fairly common type of heart disease, there are several potential causes of developing arrhythmia, including:

  • Heart defects.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Diabetes.
  • Excessive and frequent levels of stress.
  • Other forms of heart disease, including valvular heart disease.
  • Certain medications.

The causes of the heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy are relatively unknown. However, experts believe that the disease may be caused by a reduction of blood flow to the heart, damage to the heart following a heart attack, certain medications, toxins or infections.

As stated previously, congenital heart defects are typically discovered in early infancy or childhood. Defects generally develop while a baby is still in the womb. The exact cause of the defects is currently unknown, however, experts believe that some medical conditions, medications and genetics may play a role in the development of heart defects.

Valvular heart disease is a cardiovascular condition that you are either born with or the condition develops due to damage to the heart. This damage can be caused by a number of factors, including other heart conditions, connective tissue disorders and other medical conditions.

In order to understand heart disease prevention, it is important to recognize the overall risk factors that increase your odds of developing one or more cardiovascular conditions. General heart disease risks can be applied to most types of heart disease. These risks include:

  • Age, as there is an increased risk of heart disease with age.
  • Gender, as men have a greater risk of developing heart disease compared to women.
  • A family history of heart disease.
  • Smoking and tobacco use.
  • Having a poor diet, including a diet that is high in fat, sodium, cholesterol or sugar.
  • Having high cholesterol.
  • Having high blood pressure.
  • Having diabetes.
  • Being obese or overweight.
  • Chronic and persistent stress.
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Having poor hygiene.

Learn About Preventing Heart Disease

A heart healthy diet that restricts sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar intake can have a significant effect on your overall heart health and reduce your likelihood of developing a serious cardiovascular condition. You should also strive to eat heart healthy foods, including:

  • Leafy green vegetables.
  • Whole grains.
  • Berries.
  • Avocados.
  • Fatty fish and fish oil.
  • Walnuts, almonds and seeds.
  • Beans.
  • Green tea.

Additionally, it is important to stay active and engage in routine exercise of at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Staying active has a dramatic effect on your overall heart health and can reduce your risk of obesity or health you lose weight, further reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Other important heart disease prevention measures include:

  • Not smoking or quitting if you already smoke.
  • Controlling other medical conditions that you may have, especially diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Losing weight if you are currently overweight or obese and maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Reducing and managing stress levels.
  • Practicing good hygiene to avoid infections that could lead to serious complications and heart disease.