Overview of Cardiovascular health, diabetes, & obesity
Understanding Cardiovascular Health
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Cardiovascular disease is the number 1 cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Stroke is the No. 3 cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability.
Fortunately, everyone can take steps to protect their heart–and their life or that of someone else. The key is to reduce your risk factors, know the symptoms, and respond quickly and properly if warning signs occur.
Programs like Teen Take HeartTM provide adults and teens tools they can use to help prevent heart disease.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart and blood vessel disease—also called cardiovascular disease (CVD)—refers to problems with arteries. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Blood vessel disease is most common in the arteries leading to the heart (coronary arteries), brain (carotid arteries), and legs (peripheral arteries). Almost any artery in the body can develop problems, though.
Artery problems develop over time when plaque—a combination of blood cholesterol, fat and cells—builds up on the inside walls of arteries. Plaque makes arteries less flexible—a condition called atherosclerosis or “hardening of the arteries.” Also, blood clots (thrombi) can form and stick to the plaque.
Plaque and/or blood clots can narrow an artery’s blood-flow channel. When this happens, blood flow slows down. The part(s) of the body “fed” by narrowed arteries may not get enough oxygen-rich blood.alt
Figure A shows a normal artery with normal blood flow. Figure B shows an artery with plaque buildup. Plaque narrows the arteries and reduces blood flow to your heart muscle. It also makes it more likely that blood clots will form in your arteries. Blood clots can partially or completely block blood flow.
Narrowed arteries can become blocked in several ways. Plaque and/or blood clots can build up and completely block blood flow through an artery. Also, pieces of plaque and/or blood clots can break off the artery wall and get lodged in narrowed sections of the artery—or in any small-diameter artery. Blocked arteries prevent oxygen-rich blood from flowing where it’s needed. This can cause:
- Heart attack — When a coronary artery (to the heart) is blocked.
- Stroke — When a carotid artery (in the neck) or an artery in the brain is blocked.
- Leg pain and/or numbness – When a leg artery is blocked.
The good news is there are many things you can do to reduce your chances of developing heart and blood vessel disease. Learn about the risk factors for heart & blood vessel disease, and what you can do about them.
No matter where you stand, it’s never too late to make better choices for your health. The American Heart Association has created a simple tool to let you know where you stand on your road to good health. Click here for the My Life Check Assessment.
Obesity & Diabetes
There has been a lot of talk lately about how much heavier Americans have been growing since the 1970s. Today, approximately 65 percent of adults are overweight or obese with sixty-one million adult Americans considered obese.
Children are becoming heavier as well. The percentage of children and teens who are overweight has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Today, about 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19 are overweight.
Extra pounds can add up to health problems, often for life. In adults, overweight and obesity are linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and other chronic conditions.
For children, overweight also increases health risks. Type 2 diabetes was once rare in American children—now it accounts for 8 to 45 percent of newly-diagnosed diabetes cases in children and adolescents. Overweight children are also more likely to become overweight or obese as adults.
A person’s weight is the result of many things working together—genes, metabolism (the way your body converts food and oxygen into energy), behavior, and your environment.
Changes in our environment that make it harder to engage in healthy behavior have a lot to do with our overall increase in weight over the past few decades. For example:
- We’re an in-the-car and sit-behind-a-desk society. For many of us—parents and children alike—daily life doesn’t involve a lot of physical activity. If we want to be active, we have to make an effort.
- Food is everywhere, along with messages telling us to eat and drink. We can get something to eat in places where it was never available before—like the gas station. Going out to eat or buying carryout is easy.
- Food portions at restaurants and at home are bigger than they used to be. To learn how these larger portions impact the calories or energy you consume, click on MyPlate.