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What is heart (cardiovascular) disease?

Heart disease — also called cardiovascular disease — includes numerous health conditions, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. Plaque is made up of fats, proteins, and other substances in the blood. Plaque buildup not only narrows the arteries, but it injures them, making it harder for blood to flow through the body. This is also known as coronary artery disease.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) also encompasses other conditions, including stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), high blood pressure, and heart valve issues. Infections of the heart (such as endocarditis) are not common in healthy people, but do fall under the category of heart disease.

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. Depending on the type of heart disease and the severity, heart disease can cause heart attacks, strokes, or heart failure. Every year in the United States, 605,000 people will have their first heart attack, and 200,000 will have a recurrent heart attack. The average age for a first heart attack is 66 years old for men and 72 years old for women.1

What are the early signs of heart disease?

For most people, heart disease does not cause any symptoms in the early stages of development, nor do the conditions that lead to heart disease. Atherosclerosis, diabetes, and high blood pressure (which are all major risk
factors for heart disease) all start developing in the body without causing any symptoms. For this reason, it is important for people to understand their risk factors for heart disease, both modifiable (those you can
control) and non-modifiable (those you can’t control).
Risk Factors You Can ControlRisk Factors You Can’t Control
SmokingFamily History of Heart Disease or Stroke
Manage Your DiabetesGender (men have higher rates of heart disease)
Physical Activity 
Manage Your High Blood Pressure 

What are 5 types of heart diseases?

  • Atherosclerosis (coronary heart disease) is the most common form of CVD. Atherosclerosis not only affects blood flow, but it injures the arteries, making them stiffer and less flexible. That’s why this disease is
    sometimes referred to as “hardening of the arteries”. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart failure (weakening of the heart muscle) or heart attack.
  • Stroke is the #5 cause of death in the U.S., and a leading cause of disability.2 A stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is either slowed or stopped, usually from plaque or a blood clot. This is
    called an ischemic stroke, the type that makes up about 87% of strokes. Another type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a weakened blood vessel breaks and bleeds. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is
    the main cause of hemorrhagic stroke.
  • High Blood Pressure (HBP), also called hypertension, is when the force of blood pumping against the wall of the arteries is high enough to cause health problems over time. HBP is a major risk factor for heart attacks
    and strokes.
  • Arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, occurs when the heart beats too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Many things, including coronary heart disease, an electrolyte imbalance, and even damage to the
    heart muscle after a heart attack, can cause arrhythmias.3 The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation (Afib), when the heart beats too fast and at an irregular pace. People with Afib are at
    higher risk for stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.4
  • Heart valve problems can be present at birth (called congenital), or they can be caused by infections such as endocarditis or rheumatic fever. Atherosclerosis, prolonged high blood pressure, and damage to the heart
    muscle after a heart attack can also cause heart valve disease.5