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Heart disease, also known as cardiovascular disease (CAD), is a number of conditions that affect the heart. It includes heart defects a child may have at birth, damage to blood vessels and arteries and heart rhythm problems.
Heart disease boosts a person’s risk for heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest. Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart is blocked. During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating abruptly. When the heart stops, blood no longer flows to the brain and other organs.
Sudden cardiac arrest can happen after a heart attack. Most people who experience sudden cardiac arrest die within a few minutes without immediate emergency help to restart their heart. The majority of sudden cardiac deaths occur in men.
The hard truth is that some risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, are unchangeable. Still, there are many risk factors that can be modified – at any age.
Nearly half of all Americans have at least one of the three main – and preventable – risk factors for heart disease:
Other risk factors include:
A poor diet and lack of exercise can cause plaque to form in arteries. Plaque buildup can begin as early as adolescence. This paves the way for a possible heart attack. Most people who die from heart disease are 65 or older, but nearly 20 percent are younger.
Death statistics are startling for both genders. In this country, nearly half of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have a heart attack die. The risk for heart attack in men increases after age 45. For women under age 50, heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal than for men.
Love your heart. The American Heart Association recommends lots of ways to help keep it healthy:
Talk with your doctor if you have any of the risk factors for heart disease. Together, set goals to help manage your condition.
Originally published 2/17/2016; Revised 2019, 2022
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