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What Causes Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a major problem in the United States. In fact, heart disease is the #1 killer of American adults (Centers, 2006). Tragically, most of the 600,000 Americans who die of heart disease each year could have been saved by simple changes in lifestyle. Globally, heart disease kills millions of people every year. Read on to learn what causes heart disease and how it can be prevented.
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Atherosclerosis: The # 1 Culprit
The most common feature of heart and other forms of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries.” Atherosclerosis happens when blood flows too fast through blood vessels, causes them to become stiff. People with atherosclerosis are at greater risk for heart disease and stroke than people who don't have this condition. Fortunately, atherosclerosis is preventable and in some cases reversible by changes in lifestyle.
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Smoking is a major risk factor for atherosclerosis (Mayo Clinic). Nicotine constricts blood vessels, causing blood to flow through vessels faster than it should. Cigarette smoke also contains carbon monoxide, which takes the place of oxygen in the blood and damages the lining of blood vessels.
For those who smoke, kicking the habit is the single most important lifestyle change that will reduce risk for heart disease. It isn't easy to quit smoking. Fortunately, help is available. Americans living anywhere in the country can call 1-800-Quit-Now, or go to www.quitline.com to be connected with US Department of Health resources that can help them give up cigarettes.
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Healthy Diet and Exercise
A diet high in saturated fats is a second major risk factor for atherosclerosis (National). Saturated fats, such as those found in animal fats, meat, and many fried foods, raise the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. This cholesterol is then deposited on artery walls, narrowing them and causing blood to flow too fast.
A healthy diet can lower LDL cholesterol levels. Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains stop the production of LDL cholesterol. Foods high in soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, are especially helpful. For more information about healthy diet, check out this great Bright Hub article: What is the Defintion of a Healthy Diet?
Exercise can also help lower dangerous LDL levels, as well as control other dangerous health conditions, such as obesity and Type II diabetes. The usual guideline is 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise every day, though those with heart defects or other medical problems should consult a physician before beginning an exercise program.
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Getting Screened and Considering Medical Interventions
Though high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and other risk factors for heart disease are often seen among the overweight and obese, it is also possible for thin people to have these conditions. Therefore, it is important for everyone to have his or her blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly.
Though diet, exercise and smoking cessation can reduce risk of heart disease, sometimes these aren't enough. Those considering blood pressure lowering drugs or other heart medications should make sure to speak to a knowledgeable physician about risks verses rewards. Often, the drugs that have been on the market are safest, as sufficient time has passed for any serious problems to have revealed themselves. These drugs also happen to be less expensive.
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Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Causes of Heart Disease. MayoClinic.com. Retrieved 19 June, 2010 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease/DS01120/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies
National Institute of Health. (n.d.). What Causes Atherosclerosis? US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 19 June, 2010 from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Atherosclerosis/Atherosclerosis_Causes.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). Leading Causes of Death. CDC.gov. Retrieved 21 June, 2010 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm