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Cardio Vascular Risk Factors

What is Cardio Vascular Disease? - How Many People Have It? - How Many People Die from It? - Who Dies from Cardio Vascular Disease - Am I at Risk? - How Will Cardio Vascular Effect My Life? - What Can I Do About It? - Links - Further Reading - Articles


What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD)is a group of medcial problems that effect the heart and surrounding blood vessels. CVD can take many forms, such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, valvular heart disease, stroke, or rheumatic heart disease.

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How many people have Cardiovascular Disease?

About 59,700,000 Americans have at least one form of CVD.


Number of people effected

High Blood Pressure


Acute Heart Attack


Angina (chest pain)




Rheumatic Heart Disease


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How many people die from Cardiovascular Disease?

CVD claimed the lives of nearly a million people in 1997. This accounts for 41.2 percent of all deaths that year. One-sixth of all people killed by CVD are under the age of 65. Cancer, the second largest killer in the United States, accounts for only half as many deaths.

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Who dies from Cardiovascular Disease?

Approximate number of deaths per 100,000 people for the year 2000 are:


Number of deaths (per 100,000)

White Males


Black Males


White Females


Black Females


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Am I at risk?

You may be at increased risk of CVD if you answer "YES" to two or more of the following questions:

  • Are you a man over 45 years old?

  • Are you a woman over 55 years old, or have you passed menopause or had your ovaries removed and are not taking estrogen?

  • Did your father or brother have a heart attack before age 55 or did your mother or sister have one before age 65?

  • Do you smoke, or do you live or work with people who smoke every day?

  • Is your total cholesterol level 240 mg/dL or higher?

  • Is your HDL cholesterol less than 35 mg/dL?

  • Is your blood pressure 140/90 or higher or have you ever been told that your blood pressure is too high?

  • Do you get less than 30 minutes of physical activity on most days?

  • Are you more than 20 pounds overweight?

  • Do you have diabetes?

Your risk adds increases as you can answer more of the above questions as a "yes." Fortunately, many of these risk factors are in your control.

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How will Cardiovascular Disease affect my life?

Depending on what form or forms of the disease you have, its impact on your life can vary.

High Blood Pressure                                                                              

High blood pressure is called the "silent killer," because it develops over many years with no noticeable symptoms.  Allowed to run unchecked, it can cause many health problems, including heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and blindness. On average, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure are:

  • Seven times more likely to have a stroke.
  • Six times more likely to develop congestive heart failure.
  • Three times more likely to have a heart attack.

Therefore, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If your blood pressure is high, your doctor may work with you to try to reduce it. He or she may recommend dietary changes, and exercise program, or medication to help manage blood pressure. Remember, the closer you ca get your blood pressure to 120 / 80 mm/hg, the better!

Heart Attack                                                                                      

A heart attack (also called "myocardial infarction") occurs when a section of the heart becomes oxygen deprived as a result of a blockage in one of the arteries that leads to the heart. While they seem to occur suddenly and often without warning, the process underlying the event has been going on for many years. Underlying the clot is a disease of the artery wall called arteriosclerosis. After a heart attack, patients are generally allowed to return to work in 3-6 weeks, although most will be limited to carrying no more than 40 pounds for the first 3-6 months. It is often recommended that the person go back for half-days if possible for the first week. Long hours should be avoided.     


In instances where increased blood flow to the heart is needed (during exercise, sex or stressful or emotional situations) clogged coronary arteries cannot deliver enough oxygen rich blood to the heart. The result is that the heart tissues are starved of oxygen, causing pain. The effect that angina has on your life varies enormously. Some people are able to lead normal lives, apart from restrictions on strenuous exercise. Others, however, may become severely disabled. Although medication can control the symptoms of angina, it cannot cure the condition. The most important things you can do are to stop smoking and watch your weight and your blood pressure.             


Stroke is a cardiovascular disease that affects the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts or is clogged by a blood clot or some other particle. Part of the brain doesn't get the blood flow it needs and oxygen deprived cells in the affected area of the brain die within minutes. As a result, the parts of the body controlled by these nerve cells can't function. The effects of stroke are often permanent because dead brain cells are not replaced.                                                                                            

Stroke affects different people in different ways, depending on the type of stroke, the area of the brain affected and the extent of the brain injury. Brain injury from a stroke can affect the senses, motor activity, speech and the ability to understand speech, behavioral patterns, thought patterns, memory and emotions. Paralysis or weakness on one side of the body is common.                   

Rheumatic Heart Disease                                                                  

Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which permanent damage to the heart valves is caused when a strep throat infection develops into rheumatic fever. Persons who have previously contracted rheumatic fever are often given continuous (daily or monthly) antibiotic treatments, possibly for life, to prevent future attacks of rheumatic fever and lower the risk of heart damage. The damaged heart valve either doesn't completely close or doesn't completely open. The severity of the problem depends on how much damage was done and on which heart valve is affected. The most advanced condition is congestive heart failure. Antibiotic therapy has sharply reduced the incidence and mortality rate of rheumatic fever/rheumatic heart disease.

Congestive Heart Failure                                                              

Congestive heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body's other organs. The "failing" heart keeps working but doesn't work as efficiently as it should. People with heart failure can't exert themselves because they become short of breath and tired. As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing congestion and swelling (edema) most commonly in the legs and ankles, but possibly in other parts of the body as well. Sometimes fluid collects in the lungs and interferes with breathing, causing shortness of breath, especially when a person is lying down.                                           

High Cholesterol                                                                                   

High Cholesterol is a major contributor to heart disease, particularly atherosclerosis (hardening, narrowing and eventual clogging of arteries). If too much cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly form a clot in the walls of the arteries feeding the heart and brain. A clot can block the flow of blood to part of the heart muscle and cause a heart attack. If a clot blocks the flow of blood to part of the brain, the result is a stroke. High cholesterol can be effectively managed through a combination of medications, diet changes, and exercise.

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What can I do about it?

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease:   

Exercise is a great place to start. It burns off calories, reduces the appetite, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress levels, and raises HDL cholesterol levels (good cholesterol). Exercise should be moderate and should occur on most days of the week. A brisk, 20 to 30 minute walk almost everyday would be of great benefit.                    

A few simple dietary changes can make your diet heart-smart. Heart-healthy habits include limiting your intake of salt to no more than a teaspoon (6 grams) or 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. Your diet should consist primarily of fruits, vegetables, grain products, lean meats, and fish. Try to decrease your level of fat and cholesterol (i.e., fatty red meats, whole milk, whole milk cheeses, eggs, cream-based dishes, and rich desserts). Only 30 percent of your calories should come from fat. You can cut fat and cholesterol by replacing fried foods with roasted, baked, grilled, steamed, and broiled foods. Buy only lean cuts of meat and trim away visible fat prior to cooking. Remove the fatty skin of poultry prior to cooking. Replace butter with olive, canola, or peanut oil. Your daily cholesterol consumption should be no more than about 300 milligrams. One egg has approximately 213 milligrams.                                                       

Medical research suggests that having small amounts of alcohol protects against heart disease and heart attacks. An appropriate amount is one 8-ounce glass of wine, two 12-ounce glasses of beer, or one cocktail made with 2-ounces of 100-proof liquor. Moderate amounts of alcohol raises HDL (good) cholesterol levels, which helps to move more of the LDL (bad) cholesterol out of the body. While drinking small amounts of alcohol can be helpful to the heart, excessive amounts of alcohol can seriously damage the heart and liver.                                                                                  

Managing stress is important to everyone's well-being, but it is a special concern for those with heart disease. When we feel stressed, our hearts race and blood pressure rises, increasing the demand by the heart for oxygen, which can cause chest pain. Also, our arteries can become injured by the combination of excess hormones and blood circulation required during the stress response. As the arterial walls begin to heal, they thicken, making them prone to plaque buildup, which narrows the arteries. Additionally, when we are stressed, our blood is more likely to clot and block a narrow artery, causing a heart attack.

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Further Reading

  • Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease by Dr. Dean Ornish

  • Mayo Clinic Heart Book edited by Bernard J. Gersh

  • American Heart Association's Your Heart: An Owners Manual by the American Heart Association

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Jousilahti, P., E. Vartiainen, J. Tuomilehto and P. Puska. 1999. Sex, age, cardiovascular risk factors, and coronary heart disease: a prospective follow-up study of 14,786 middle-aged men and women in Finland. Circulation, 99:1165-72.

Kris-Etherton, P.M., C.L. Pelkman, G. Zhao and Y. Wang. 2000. No evidence for a link between consumption of chocolate and coronary heart disease. Am J Clin Nutr Oct;72(4):1059-61.

Rosengren, A., H. Wedel and L. Wilhelmsen. 1999. Body weight and weight gain during adult life in med in relation to coronary heart disease and mortality. A prospecitive population study. Eur Heart J. Feb ;20 (4): 269-77.

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