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How Does Heart Disease Affect the Body?

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 6/30/2010

Heart disease increases the risk for several serious medical conditions. Since the heart affects the lungs, kidneys and blood vessels, you should control your heart disease carefully. So, how does heart disease affect the body? Learn how in this guide to heart disease.

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    Increased Stroke Risk

    Heart disease increases the risk for stroke, which affects the arteries that supply the brain with blood. The American Heart Association reports that stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Two types of stroke damage the blood vessels that supply the brain. Ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel ruptures. This prevents blood from reaching the brain, which means the brain does not get the oxygen it needs. Warning signs of stroke include numbness or weakness, vision disturbances, dizziness, severe headache, difficulty speaking and confusion. These signs appear suddenly and without warning.

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    High Blood Pressure

    Some forms of heart disease result in the formation of plaque in the arteries. The arteries carry oxygenated blood away from the heart and to the other tissues of the body. As plaque builds up, the heart has to pump even harder to deliver this nutrient-rich blood to the organs. The increased workload results in high blood pressure. Blood pressure represents the force of blood on the artery walls as it travels through the circulatory system. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk for stroke, blindness, kidney disease, diabetes and heart attack.

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    Kidney Disease

    The heart and kidneys have a very close relationship. The heart pumps blood to the kidneys and, in turn, the kidneys filter waste from the blood. The kidneys then produce urine to excrete these wastes and return nutrients back into the circulatory system. The high blood pressure that occurs as a result of heart disease causes kidney damage and damage to the blood vessels that supply the kidneys. This damage leads to chronic kidney disease, which could lead to end stage renal failure. Congestive heart failure also contributes to the development of kidney disease. In congestive heart failure, the heart cannot pump blood properly. This means the blood backs up into the lungs and other body tissues. As congestive heart failure worsens, fluid and sodium build up in the bloodstream, putting additional stress on the kidney.

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    Poor Circulation

    Some types of heart disease result in poor circulation of the blood throughout the body. The hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis also contributes to poor circulation. Arterial plaque makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the legs and feet. This results in poor circulation in the extremities. Poor circulation causes cold feet, changes in skin color, numbness of the feet, cramping pains in the calf muscle, tingling in the foot and poor wound healing in the extremities. People with poor circulation need to carefully monitor their feet for signs of ulceration and wounds. Since wounds do not heal quickly in people with poor circulation, untreated foot wounds could lead to serious infections.

    If you have heart disease, this should answer one of the most common questions: how does heart disease affect the body?

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    References

    American Heart Association: Risk Factors and Coronary Heart Disease

    American Heart Association: An Overview of the Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease

    National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke

    ePodiatry.com: Poor Circulation