You know how important your heart is, so it's no wonder people worry when they hear someone has heart problems.
Heart disease, also called cardiovascular (say: kar-dee-oh-VAS-kyoo-lur) disease, mainly affects older people and means that there are problems with the heart and blood vessels.
You might know someone who has cardiovascular disease because more than 60 million Americans have some form of it. This disease includes a variety of problems, including high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, chest pain, heart attacks, and strokes.
The heart is the center of the cardiovascular system. Through the body's blood vessels, the heart pumps blood to all of the body's cells. The blood carries oxygen, which the cells need. Cardiovascular disease is a group of problems that occur when the heart and blood vessels aren't working the way they should.
Here are some of the problems that go along with cardiovascular disease:
Heart disease isn't contagious — you can't catch it like you can the flu or a cold. Instead, certain things increase a person's chances of getting cardiovascular disease. Doctors call these things risk factors.
Some of these risk factors a person can't do anything about, like being older and having other people in the family who have had the same problems. But people do have control over some risk factors — smoking, having high blood pressure, being overweight, and not exercising can increase the risk of getting cardiovascular disease.
Many people do not realize they have cardiovascular disease until they have chest pain, a heart attack, or stroke. These kinds of problems often need immediate attention and the person may need to go to the emergency department of a hospital.
If it's not an emergency and a doctor suspects the person could have cardiovascular disease, the doctor can do some tests to find out more about how the heart and blood vessels are working. These tests include:
If a patient has cardiovascular disease, the doctor will talk about how stopping smoking, losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting exercise can help. The person also may need to take medicine, have surgery, or both.
There are different surgeries for the heart and blood vessels. These include:
If someone you know is getting one of these operations, you might feel worried. The good news is that these surgeries can help prevent heart attacks, strokes, and other problems. The amount of time the person will need to spend in the hospital will vary, depending on the operation and the person's health. The person may be tired and worn out after the surgery, but you can help by making a "Get Well" card and paying a visit.
Kids usually don't have any symptoms of heart and blood vessel problems. But by starting heart-healthy habits right now, kids can reduce the chance they will ever need to worry about cardiovascular disease.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2013
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