Cardiovascular disease is a wide-encompassing category that includes all conditions that affect the heart and the blood vessels.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. This introductory article
briefly discusses several diseases that have a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. Many risk factors are associated with cardiovascular disease; most can be managed, but some cannot. The
aging process and hereditary predisposition are risk factors that cannot be altered. Until age 50, men are at
greater risk than women of developing heart disease, though once a woman enters menopause, her risk triples.1
Many people with cardiovascular disease have elevated or high
cholesterol levels.2 Low HDL cholesterol
(known as the “good” cholesterol) and high LDL cholesterol (known as the “bad”
cholesterol) are more specifically linked to cardiovascular disease than is total
cholesterol.3 A blood test, administered by most healthcare professionals,
is used to determine cholesterol levels.
Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) of the vessels
that supply the heart with blood is the most common cause of heart
attacks. Atherosclerosis and high cholesterol usually occur together, though cholesterol levels can
change quickly and atherosclerosis generally takes decades to develop.
The link between high triglyceride levels and heart
disease is not as well established as the link between high cholesterol and heart disease. According to some
studies, a high triglyceride level is an independent risk factor for heart disease in some people.4
High homocysteine levels have been identified as an
independent risk factor for heart disease.5 Homocysteine can be measured by a blood test that must be ordered by a healthcare
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major risk factor for
cardiovascular disease, and the risk increases as blood pressure rises.6 Glucose intolerance and diabetes constitute
separate risk factors for heart disease. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease caused by
Abdominal fat, or a “beer belly,” versus fat that accumulates on the hips, is associated with
increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.7Overweight individuals are more likely to have
additional risk factors related to heart disease, specifically hypertension, high blood sugar levels, high
cholesterol, high triglycerides, and diabetes.