Worldwide, every 36 seconds, one person dies from heart disease. Heart diseases claim an estimated 17.9 million lives annually. Heart diseases [cardiovascular disease (CVD)] are a leading global health concern affecting millions of lives yearly. It comprises a range of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. This results in serious health complications. Understanding these causes is important for making an informed lifestyle choice and taking steps toward heart health.
Heart diseases are the leading cause of death around the world. Over four out of five CVD deaths result from heart attacks and strokes. One-third of these deaths happen prematurely in individuals below the age of 70.
Several factors may increase the chances of developing heart disease. These include the following:
- High blood pressure (BP)
- High low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure
- Obesity, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity
What are Heart Diseases?
Heart diseases are a group of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. This includes coronary heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and other conditions. Heart disease constitutes a range of conditions that affect the heart. These diseases include:
- Heart problems you are born with (congenital heart disease)
- Blood vessel disease (e.g., coronary artery disease)
- Heart muscle diseases
- Heart valve disease
- Irregular heartbeats
What are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
Symptoms may vary depending on what condition you have and can include the following:
- Weakness, pain, or numbness in the legs and/or arms
- Chest pain
- Very fast or slow heartbeat or palpitations
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint
- Swollen limbs
What are the Major Causes of Heart Disease?
Some of the major causes of heart disease are explained below:
1. Smoking and Secondhand Smoke Exposure
Smoking is the major cause of heart disease and stroke. Smoking causes 1 in every four deaths from these conditions. Smoking can damage the body in several ways:
- Raises triglycerides and lowers high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
- Makes the blood sticky, and the blood is more likely to clot. This results in the block of blood flow to the brain and heart.
- Damages cells that line the blood vessels.
- Increases the build-up of plaque (fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other substances) in blood vessels.
- Causes thickening and narrowing of blood vessels.
2. High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol
Elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) is a leading risk factor for heart disease. High BP is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. It damages the lining of the arteries, making them more susceptible to plaque build-up.
Plaque build-up narrows the arteries, which lead to the heart and brain. High (LDL-C) can increase a person's risk of heart disease by two-fold. This is due to excess build-up of cholesterol in the artery walls. This build-up of excess cholesterol limits blood flow to a person's brain, heart, kidneys, other organs, and legs.
In 2021, over 3.81 million cardiovascular deaths were attributed to elevated LDL-C levels.
Patients can improve their BP and cholesterol levels by:
- Eating a healthy diet which is low in sodium
- Being physically active
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Taking medicines as recommended
High fasting glucose closely correlates with prediabetes, diabetes, and obesity worldwide. In 2021, elevated fasting plasma glucose contributed to 5.4 million deaths and 2.30 million cardiovascular deaths.
Diabetic patients are twice at risk of developing heart disease. High blood sugar levels damage the heart's blood vessels. This leads to blockages that may result in stroke. Over two-thirds of diabetic people also have high BP, while the condition also increases triglyceride and LDL-C levels.
Obesity is highly prevalent globally. It directly contributes to the pathogenesis and progression of CVD and is closely associated with multiple health risks. Overweight/obese people are at an increased risk of heart disease than those who have a normal weight. The risk factors include the following:
- High BP
- High LDL-C
- Low HDL-C
- High triglycerides
- Type 2 diabetes
5. Physical Inactivity
Physical inactivity can also result in heart disease and can increase the chance of other risk factors, including:
- High BP
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
6. Unhealthy Diet
Sugar-sweetened beverages are directly marketed toward adolescents and children. Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has rapidly increased in recent years. This has been closely linked with:
- Adverse weight trajectories
- Poor nutrition
- Higher risks of cardiometabolic illness
A healthy diet helps decrease the chances of getting heart disease. A healthy diet comprises:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy products
- Lean proteins
- Limited saturated and trans fat, added sugars, and sodium.
7. Kidney Dysfunction
In 2021, 3.47 million deaths overall and 1.87 million cardiovascular deaths were due to reduced kidney function. CVD is the most frequent mode of death, even in a large proportion of patients with earlier stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD).
8. High Alcohol Use
As alcohol consumption exceeds 100 g weekly, a substantial reduction in life expectancy has been associated with heavy alcohol use.
Cardiovascular risks associated with increased BP and arrhythmias are seen with higher alcohol use. In 2021, 1.88 million deaths overall were due to high alcohol use.
What are the Treatment Options for Cardiovascular Heart Disease?
Treatment will depend on your condition but usually includes:
- Lifestyle changes
- A device such as an ICD or pacemaker
- Heart surgery
Heart diseases are a tough health challenge with devastating consequences if left unchecked. However, by identifying and understanding the major causes, we can take control of our heart health. Lifestyle modifications, regular medical check-ups, and a commitment to heart-healthy choices can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. By prioritizing our heart health, we improve our well-being and contribute to a healthier future.