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Heart Disease

There are many types of heart disease and blood vessel diseases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. In 2021, about 695,000 people in the United States died from heart disease – that is 1 in every 5 deaths. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease – killing 375,476 in 2021. Approximately, 5%, or 1 in 20 adults aged 20 and older, have coronary artery disease. Every year, approximately 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack. Below are brief summaries of the leading diseases of the heart and blood vessels:

Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) occurs when deposits of lipid (fat) material accumulate on the walls of large to medium-sized arteries. Eventually, these plaque deposits will thicken the artery walls, making them hard, brittle and prone to breaking. Blood flow becomes restricted and many times clots will form around these blocked areas. This can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the diagnosis when the pressure of the blood moving through your arteries is consistently above the normal range. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and contributes to atherosclerosis. Blood pressure numbers that are less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic are considered within the normal range. Individuals who experience elevated blood pressure readings that are consistently in the range of 120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic, are more likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control the condition. Hypertension Stage 1 is when an individual’s blood pressure is consistently 130 to 139 systolic and 80 to 89 diastolic. At this stage your health care professional will prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medications based on other risk factors. Hypertension Stage 2 is when your blood pressure is consistently 140 systolic and 90 diastolic or higher. If your blood pressure is in Hypertension Stage 2, most health care professionals will likely prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes. Blood pressures that exceed 180 systolic and 120 diastolic, are considered a hypertensive crisis. If your blood pressure is 180/120, wait five minutes and test your blood pressure again. If readings continue to be high, contact your health care professional. If your blood pressure is more than 180/120 and you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness, weakness, change in vision, and or difficulty speaking, call 911.

Most people cannot tell they have high blood pressure because there are no signs or symptoms. That is why it is important to see a physician health care professional every year. There are a number of lifestyle changes and medications that can help you control hypertension.

Heart attacks occur when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked, often by a blood clot. If the clot completely cuts off the blood flow, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.

Heart failure is a general term that means your heart is not pumping blood as well as it should be. This results in the body not getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. See your health care provider if you notice swelling in feet, ankles and legs (called edema) or if fluid builds up in the lungs (called pulmonary congestion).

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common form of heart disease. It is characterized by a reduction in the blood supply to the heart muscle caused by narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries. It can present as myocardial infarction (heart attack), angina pectoris (chest pain) or atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Risk factors are behaviors or conditions that increase a person’s chances of developing a disease. Many of the risk factors for heart disease are within a person’s control.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Work with your health care professional to reach your optimal blood pressure.

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a natural substance found in all living tissue. When too much of it builds up in arteries, however, it can be dangerous.

Tobacco use

Tobacco use is the No. 1 preventable cause of heart disease.

Physical inactivity

Physical activity can help you to control blood pressure and to reduce cholesterol levels. It also aids in controlling and maintaining a healthy weight.

Poor nutrition

Children and adults need to control the amount of fat, particularly saturated fat, in their diets. They also should increase the number of servings of fruits and vegetables they eat each day.


The combination of physical inactivity and poor nutrition has given rise to an alarming increase in the obesity rate in Illinois and the rest of the United States. In addition to heart disease, being overweight can cause a number of other health problems.


This disease affects the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin, a hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose, the body’s main source of fuel. If too little (or no) insulin is produced, glucose builds up in the blood and can reach dangerous levels. Diabetes can seriously harm blood vessels throughout the body, including those in the heart, which increases the risks of heart disease. High blood glucose levels cause hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), thicken capillary walls and make blood stickier — all significant risk factors for heart disease.

Who is at risk of developing heart disease?

People at an increased risk are those who:

  • Smoke nicotine
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have high cholesterol – especially those with high LDL (bad) cholesterol and who have low HDL (good) cholesterol levels
  • Are physically inactive
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a family history of heart disease or stroke

Other risk factors are a diet high in saturated fats and sodium (salt), weight (overweight and obesity), stress, gender, age, and certain races and ethnicities.

How can I reduce my risk of developing heart disease?

There are a number of changes you can make in your daily life that will help to reduce your risk of heart disease:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Be more physically active.
  • Maintain a proper weight.
  • Reduce stress and tension in your life.
  • Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine.
  • Eat a well balanced diet (high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and cholesterol).
  • Visit your health care provider for a regular medical checkup.
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
    • Measure your blood pressure at home.