Cardiovascular Disease in Women – What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease is a general term used to describe diseases that affect the heart and/or blood vessel of the heart. Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease, stroke, and other diseases.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease, and is the single leading cause of death for women and men across all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The heart needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which are carried to it by the blood in the coronary arteries. When the coronary arteries become narrowed or clogged by cholesterol and fat deposits, the heart does not get enough blood and ultimately is damaged. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a total blockage of the coronary artery, the result is a heart attack. The part of the heart that does not receive oxygen begins to die, and some of the heart muscle may be permanently damaged.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is blocked by a clot or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, and within minutes brain cells start to die. When brain cells die from lack of blood flow, the part of the body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause paralysis, affect language and vision, and cause other problems.

What are risk factors?

You will hear about something called risk factors. This is a term we use to describe the traits or habits that make a person more likely to get cardiovascular disease. Some of these, like increasing age and family history, are things you cannot change. However, there are some risk factors that you can do something about. They are: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes (high blood sugar), being overweight, not being physically active, and stress. The good news is that you can do a lot to prevent cardiovascular disease.

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