Heart Disease: What Exactly Is It?


Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and a regular buzzword in health literature and mainstream news. But what exactly is it and why is it important to understand?

Heart disease defined

By definition, heart disease relates to conditions where the optimal heart function is permanently compromised. There are many categories and forms of it, and they relate to either lifestyle, genetics, or a little bit of both. But it turns out that the most common form is preventable, based on diet and activity level. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most common type and the number one cause of death in the United States (US). It involves the narrowing or blockage of coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. CAD can lead to chest pain (angina) and, if left untreated, may result in a heart attack. Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, managing risk factors, and seeking medical advice are crucial in preventing and managing CAD.

It affects more than just your heart

Why do you need to understand what heart disease is and how to prevent it? Because no matter how well managed, it can be life-threatening and expensive. Also, it doesn’t work alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), heart disease increases the risk of stroke, kidney function problems, reduced cognitive function, and heart arrhythmias (when the heart develops an irregular beat pattern) which can affect organ health and physical stamina. It can also be a major complication of and for other common health concerns, especially diabetes.

Other health factors that increase the risk for heart disease

Understanding your risk is a critical step in prevention and management. Some of the most common health factors that contribute to heart disease that receive a lot of attention are high cholesterol, high blood pressure (hypertension), and obesity. Of course, genetics and lifestyle play a role in many of these related health factors as well. However, two of the lesser-known causes of heart disease are linked to stress and diabetes.

What do all these factors have in common? Your ability to directly influence the severity of these factors through education and in being proactive with your health. For more information on health factors that contribute to heart disease, visit our blog post on Heart Disease: What are the symptoms?

Questions your doctor wants you to ask

Being proactive and understanding if you are at risk for developing CAD is a critical step in taking your heart health seriously. The following are three questions your doctor needs you to ask:

  1. Based on my current health status, am I at risk?
  2. What symptoms or warning signs should I be aware of?
  3. Are there specific tests or screenings I should undergo to assess my heart health?
  4. What lifestyle changes can I make to reduce my risk?


While heart disease remains a top health concern and cause of death in the United States, there is a silver lining: It has been on a steady decline since the late 1960s. Why? Your lifestyle choices have a direct impact on the likelihood that you’ll be at risk for developing heart disease. For instance, being mindful of what you eat and how it affects your heart health is a good place to start. Some of the more common types of diets have well-known heart-health benefits, and these days they are easily adaptable with the number of cookbooks, websites, mainstream news articles, and free app resources dedicated to them.

So, while heart disease and the health complications associated with it may seem all doom and gloom, the fact remains: you can do something about it. You can dramatically reduce your risk of developing it by understanding what it is, talking to your doctor about it, and making heart-healthy lifestyle choices that are best suited for your health situation.


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