Articles on Health
Where it all begins
What causes cardiovascular
disease? Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains the number one
killer in North America. These diseases—such as heart attack,
stroke, angina pectoris, atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis,
and high blood pressure—and their risk factors are so
interrelated that it is very difficult to say “where it all
begins.” One place to look when sorting this out is with
Atherosclerosis is the buildup of
plaque in the arteries. It develops slowly, with soft, fatty
streaks gradually accumulating along the inner walls of the
arteries, especially where they branch. With time, the streaks
grow larger and start hardening into plaque.
is that plaque can lead to aneurysms and blood clots, and
clots in turn can result in thrombosis, heart attack, and
An aneurysm occurs when the wall of a blood
vessel weakens and balloons out. Like a balloon, the aneurysm
can eventually burst. If this happens in a major artery, such
as the aorta, it can lead to massive bleeding and
Atherosclerosis can also upset the delicate
balance of blood clots. Clots continually form and dissolve in
our bloodstream, and it is important that this balance be
kept. Clots form when blood platelets encounter an injury.
Because the body considers plaque buildup an injury, platelets
rush to the scene and begin the clotting process. The formed
clot may remain attached to the plaque and continue growing. A
clot that grows to the point that it obstructs a blood vessel
is called a thrombus. It can shut off the blood supply to some
body tissues. If this occurs in a blood vessel that feeds the
heart, it is called a coronary thrombosis. If it occurs in an
artery in the brain, killing brain tissue, it is called a
A clot can also break loose
(called an embolus) and travel throughout the circulatory
system. In its travels, it may get stuck in a smaller artery,
blocking the flow of blood. This blockage cuts off the supply
of life-giving oxygen and nutrients, and the tissue fed by the
artery dies. If an embolus lodges in an artery of the heart,
depriving the heart of essential nutrients, a part of the
heart can die—a heart attack. If the embolus lodges in an
artery of the brain, it is a stroke.
begins If plaque and atherosclerosis are a beginning for
CVD, a number of risk factors accelerate the
As we age, risk increases. About four
out of five people who die of a heart attack are over age 65.
At older ages, women who have heart attacks are twice as
likely as men who have heart attacks to die from them within a
Gender and genes make a difference.
Males are more likely to have coronary heart disease than
females, whether younger or older. Children of those who have
had some type of CVD are more likely to develop
Smokers’ risk of heart attack is more than
twice that of nonsmokers’, and smokers’ risk of sudden cardiac
death is two to four times that of nonsmokers’.
cholesterol levels bring increased risk. As LDL
cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) levels increase, CVD risk
increases. When other risk factors are present, risk increases
even more. A person’s lipid levels are also affected by age,
sex, heredity, and diet.
High blood pressure
increases the heart’s workload and can lead to increased
arterial damage, opening the door further for atherosclerosis.
This is because increased blood pressure scars the artery
walls and causes damage. Where the damage occurs, more plaque
is likely to form, and the plaque causes the artery walls to
narrow and lose flexibility. This in turn causes the body to
increase blood pressure.
High blood pressure is also
the biggest risk factor for stroke. When high blood pressure
exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels,
or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases
The amino acid homocysteine is
now regarded as a major risk factor. Researchers say it may
play a cholesterol-like role in heart disease; that is, it may
contribute to the buildup of plaque in the
Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and
diabetes are closely linked risk factors. Those who are
overweight are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke
even if they have no other risk factors. The weight itself is
not the culprit; rather, the excess pounds concentrate other
risk factors. Obesity has a negative influence on blood
pressure and cholesterol, and may lead to diabetes. And, of
course, one of the reasons for obesity is a sedentary
Stress is also a contributing factor.
Research indicates that there is a relationship between the
risk of developing coronary heart disease and stress. This is
because stress releases certain chemicals, which can increase
heart rate and raise blood pressure. Stress also contributes
indirectly to CVD, as people under stress may smoke and drink
more than those who lead stress-free lives.
Cardio DefenseFortunately, many of the risk factors
associated with CVD can be lessened through the wise use of
dietary supplements and implementation of lifestyle solutions.
AIM has a Cardio Defense health solution that will help you
with your cardiovascular health.
Women have special concerns relating to CVD.
One of these is due to the changes that menopause brings. Many
scientists believe that estrogen, a hormone produced in a
woman’s body, offers some protection against heart disease,
and there is evidence, although less, that estrogen may
protect against stroke. Several population studies show that
the loss of natural estrogen as women age may contribute to a
higher risk of heart disease. If menopause is caused by
surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries, the risk rises
Another concern is the use of birth control
pills. Although today’s low-dose pills carry a much lower risk
of heart disease and stroke than the early pill did, women who
smoke or have high blood pressure should take special
Finally, and sadly, women have often been treated
different from men at the doctor’s office. Although physicians
routinely talk to men about heart disease and risk factors,
they do not always do this with women. Fortunately, things are
changing in this
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