Cardiovascular Disease

We sometimes talk about cardiovascular disease like it’s just one thing, a singular condition affecting our heart and blood vessels. In fact, it’s actually a whole class of diseases that, although they have a lot in common, show up in slightly different ways. They do have similar causes and risk factors, so preventative measures for one form of cardiovascular disease may work for others, too.

Cardiovascular diseases that primarily affect the heart include heart disease (hypertensive, pulmonary, valvular, rheumatic, and congenital types), heart failure, dysrhythmia (rhythm problems), endocarditis and myocarditis (types of inflammation) and similar issues. Those associated with the blood vessels include coronary artery disease, peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysms and renal artery stenosis. Cerebrovascular diseases, including strokes, come under this heading.

Some of these conditions are complications from earlier problems, such as high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Many of the vascular diseases involve atherosclerosis, or a narrowing of the blood vessels due to lesions and plaque. Early identification and treatment may prevent cardiovascular diseases from developing.

Between them, these diseases are responsible for tens of millions of deaths around the world every year. Strokes and coronary artery disease top the list when it comes to being the most fatal. Most of these people, especially in the West, will have been on the older side, and we are getting much better at delaying and mitigating cardiovascular problems, but there are still steps you can take to reduce your personal risk.

You can’t stop yourself from aging or do anything about your genes. The steps you need to take are lifestyle changes. Pretty much every cardiovascular disease becomes less likely if you take these steps, which also tend to feature prominently in more general health advice.

You might have guessed already that this means things like exercising regularly (including more high-energy, aerobic workouts where you end up out of breath) and improving your diet (more fruit, vegetables and whole grains; less saturated fats, trans fats, salt, and processed food). Then there’s giving up smoking, cutting back on the alcohol, and getting more sleep. If possible, avoid stress and work to tackle any depression or anxiety you experience.

Considering how common and damaging cardiovascular diseases can be, they really should be something you think about when trying to take care of your health. Just a few simple changes may drastically improve your chances.

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