Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It is an equal opportunity killer which claims approximately 1 million lives annually.
In fact, there are numerous answers to this question. Heart disease is actually a broad term used for a wide variety of diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm disorders called arrhythmias and defects of the heart present at birth, also called congenital heart defects.
To clarify, when we use the term heart disease on The Heart Foundation website, we are primarily referring to coronary artery disease, also called coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. This is a condition in which plaque, which is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood, builds up inside the coronary arteries which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. This plaque build-up is called atherosclerosis. A plaque can grow large enough to reduce or completely block blood flow through an artery. More frequently, a plaque may rupture, causing a blood clot to form that either blocks the artery or breaks off and travels somewhere else in the body causing a blockage at another site. When the blockage takes place in a blood vessel that feeds the heart, the result is a heart attack or, depending on the severity, Sudden Cardiac Death.
If the plaque build-up or blood clot resulting from the plaque rupture occurs in the carotid arteries on either side of the neck, this is called Carotid Artery Disease and can result in a stroke. Peripheral Arterial Disease is when the major arteries that supply blood to the legs, arms or pelvis are obstructed. If blood flow to any of these areas of the body is reduced or blocked, numbness, pain and sometimes dangerous infections such as gangrene can occur.
It is important to be familiar with the anatomy of the heart and how it functions in the body to truly understand heart disease. Click here to view the video Cedars-Sinai Heart Center Anatomy of the Heart.
Symptoms of a heart attack or myocardial infarction can vary greatly from person to person, but in order to help you identify a possible heart attack, we have listed some of the most common symptoms below:
Half of the deaths from heart attack occur in the first 3 or 4 hours after the onset of symptoms, so it is important to know and recognize the warning signs.
The chances of survival for a victim of Sudden Cardiac Death drop by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation, and very few attempts at resuscitation succeed after 10 minutes, so the key is to ACT QUICKLY!