What Is Heart Disease?

What Is Heart Disease?

Lee esto en EspañolHeart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease, is a leading killer of both men and women in the U.S. About 600,000 Americans die of heart disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With so much at stake, there’s no better time than now to be aware of the warning signs of heart disease and start reducing your risk.

Heart disease refers to a number of conditions that affect the heart. This includes diseases of the blood vessels or arteries, heart defects that you’re born with, and heart rhythm problems, among others.

 People with heart disease are at risk of both sudden cardiac arrest and heart attacks. During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating abruptly and blood stops flowing to the brain and other organs. Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is blocked.

Sudden cardiac arrest may occur after a heart attack, and most people who experience sudden cardiac arrest die within a few minutes without resuscitation from CPR or a defibrillator. Most sudden cardiac deaths occur in men.

We interviewed a bunch of kids to find out their thoughts. Their adorable reactions inspired us to learn more about the heart ourselves!

 Could a Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest Happen to Me?
While some risk factors of heart disease, such as family history, are unchangeable, there are many risk factors that can be modified—at any age.

Roughly half of Americans have one of the three main—and preventable—risk factors of heart disease:

Other risk factors include:

In addition, a lack of exercise and poor diet can cause plaque to form in arteries. This can happen as early as adolescence, paving the way for a possible heart attack in a few decades. What’s more, while most people who die from heart disease are 65 or older, nearly 20% are younger.

The statistics are overwhelming for both men and women. In the U.S., about half of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have a heart attack die. Women’s risk for heart attack rises after age 55. For women under age 50, heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal than for men. Meanwhile, the risk for heart attack in men increases after age 45.

 How Can I Help Myself?

These recommendations from the American Heart Association may help to get your heart in shape:

  • Move every day
  • Quit smoking
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce blood cholesterol
  • Lower high blood pressure
  • Manage diabetes
  • Limit alcohol

Finally, if you have any of the risk factors for heart disease, talk to your doctor about setting goals and managing your condition.

Originally published 2/17/2016; Revised 2019