Heart Disease & Strokes
Head & Heart: What’s the Connection?
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Stroke is number five. These two deadly conditions have a great deal in common, including the important ways that you can reduce your risks for developing them.
A Vast System
The cardiovascular system refers to the vast network of blood vessels that connect the heart and lungs to all the other organs of the body. Through the blood, this system transmits the oxygen and nutrients that are essential to every cell. If any of the parts of this system are impaired, we are said to have cardiovascular or heart disease.
One Name, Many Conditions
As the broad term used to describe any problems occurring with the blood vessels or heart, cardiovascular disease includes a variety of conditions such as high blood pressure (hypertension), atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. A whopping 85.6 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease.
The Master Organ
Stroke is a form of cardiovascular disease that affects the body’s master organ, the brain. If a blood vessel going to the brain ruptures or is blocked, a stroke occurs and brain function is impaired. Having other forms of heart disease puts an individual at greater risk for having a stroke. For example, blood vessels become blocked when fatty deposits accumulate on their walls (atherosclerosis), and high blood pressure increases the risk of having a blood vessel burst.
A Hidden Cause
Although the stats on heart disease and stroke may sound grim, there are many ways to lower your risks. One key is to focus on a hidden cause of the disease – inflammation. When inflammation occurs in the blood vessels, it leads to blockages and damage. To reduce inflammation, it is important to manage stress, eat a heart-healthy diet, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, and manage other medical conditions like diabetes.
A Heart-Healthy Diet
Avoiding packaged and processed foods that are high in saturated and trans fats and added sugars will keep inflammation in check. Experts recommend the Mediterranean diet in particular as a heart-healthy approach. That diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, while being low in red meat, dairy products, and added sugar.
Heart disease is preventable and treatable. Work with your health care team to learn more about lowering your risks.