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An Overview of Heart Disease in America

February 11, 2020
Published in: Heart

close-up of a woman holding a felt heart

Heart disease is the number one killer in America, full stop. It’s not the deadliest disease, it’s the leading cause of death in the United States—with cancer being the only thing that comes close to challenging the top spot. It is indiscriminate, affecting people of all races, genders, and socio-economic standings.

Even as prevalent as heart disease is in America, however, there still exist many misconceptions about the disease, and there are a number of preventative steps that can be taken to help cut down on your chances of being affected by heart disease.

Defining Heart Disease

illustration of the heart and cardiovascular systemHeart disease is a blanket term that encompasses all kinds of cardiovascular conditions that can affect your heart. Some of the these are listed below:

Coronary artery disease

Also known as atherosclerosis or CAD, this is the term used to describe the hardening and narrowing of the arteries. This can restrict and block blood flow through the body’s arteries—which can place someone at serious risk and is the number one risk of heart attack and stroke. What is usually happening in this condition is that as cholesterol builds up in your arteries, it comes under attack by white blood cells that seek to digest the cholesterol. As that occurs over time, this plaque build up means that there is less space for blood to travel freely throughout the system, which could lead to a heart attack.

Heart Attack

Medically known as myocardial infarction, heart attacks occur in more than a million Americans every year. Generally speaking, they are caused by a blockage of an artery by a blood clot. When an artery is blocked, heart cells are prevented from receiving the necessary oxygen and begin to die. That is the point when a heart attack occurs.


An arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm, is the term to describe what happens when your heart is not beating at its normal rate. Sometimes this means the heart is skipping beats, while other times this may mean it’s beating faster or slower than normal. Arrhythmia is sometimes a symptom of other more serious cardiovascular conditions, but they can also happen in healthy systems or in systems that have too much caffeine or nicotine in them.

Heart Failure

Perhaps the most misunderstood terms surrounding heart disease, heart failure does not simply mean that the heart has stopped working altogether. In most cases, heart failure is simply describing the muscle's inability to get blood to all of the parts of the body that are required. This generally happens in stages—with the left side of the heart failing first, followed by the right side. No matter what stage of heart failure one finds themselves in, however, it goes without saying that this is a serious and dangerous condition.

Preventing Heart Disease

These are only a handful of conditions that make up the broader term heart disease—but some of the most common. And while not all conditions may require the same treatment, they are nearly all mitigated by some of the following preventative measures.

Get and Stay Active

close-up of woman's shoes while she walksIt doesn’t take much exercise to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight. Just 40 minutes three or four times a week can accomplish all of this—and it doesn’t have to be all at once. Simply staying active for 10 minutes at a time can have an impact on your heart health—and may even build better habits. If you make an effort to get slightly more active throughout the day, then you could be in as good or better shape—cardiovascularly speaking—than someone who spends 30 minutes a day at the gym and the rest of the day on the couch.

Eat more fruits, vegetable, whole grains, and fish

Whenever exercise is mentioned, it’s usually in the same breath as diet—and for good reason. By limiting the number of refined grains and unhealthy fats we consume, we can reduce the chances of developing heart disease. It’s recommended to focus your snacking on fruits and vegetables, replace refined grain with whole grains - such as those found in whole grain bread or through eating grains such as brown rice, barley, or quinoa - and to limit your fat intake by replacing high fat protein with leaner options, such as fish or poultry.

Friends make your heart happy—and not just in a figurative sense

Studies have recently shown that loneliness can actually play a factor in your heart health. Meeting up with friends regularly can have a positive impact on your health, and reduce your chances of dying from cardiovascular disease.

These are just some of the ways to prevent some of the complications that come with developing heart disease. For more information, contact your health professional, and be sure to keep them apprised of the condition of your heart.