The heart is like any other muscle in the body and requires adequate blood supply to provide oxygen to allow the muscle to contract and pump. Not only does the heart pump blood to the rest of the body, it also pumps blood to itself via the coronary arteries. These arteries originate from the aorta (the major blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood away from the heart) and then branch out along the surface of the heart.
When one or more coronary arteries narrow, it can make it difficult for adequate blood to reach the heart, especially during exercise. This can cause the heart muscle to ache like any other muscle in the body. Should the arteries continue to narrow, it may take less activity to stress the heart and provoke symptoms. The classic symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath due to atherosclerotic or coronary artery disease are called angina.
Should one of the coronary arteries become completely blocked, usually due to a blood clot that forms, blood supply to part of the heart muscle is completely lost and that piece of muscle dies. This is a heart attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), here are the numbers:
- About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.
- Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing nearly 380,000 people annually.
- Every year about 720,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 515,000 are a first heart attack and 205,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.
- Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Early Action is Key
Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack is key to preventing death, but many people don’t know the signs.
- In a 2005 survey, most respondents—92%—recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack. Only 27% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 911 when someone was having a heart attack.
- About 47% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. This suggests that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.
Are You At-Risk?
High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors.
Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Poor diet
- Physical inactivity
- Excessive alcohol use
Improve Your Chances
Certain types of heart disease, such as heart defects, can’t be prevented. However, you can help prevent many other types of heart disease by making the same lifestyle changes that can improve your heart disease, such as:
- Quit smoking
- Control other health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
- Eat a diet that’s low in salt and saturated fat
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Reduce and manage stress
- Practice good hygiene