What is a heart disease?

Heart disease is a term that covers many afflictions of the heart. These include acute myocardial infarction (heart attack), coronary heart disease and congestive heart failure.

What is a stroke?

A stroke or brain attack is a form of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries or veins and stops the flow of blood bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain. A stroke occurs when one of these blood vessels bursts or become clogged. When this happens, part of the brain doesn't receive the flow of blood it needs and starts to die. This can cause loss of motor control or perception (usually on one side of the body), loss of consciousness, or death.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack or myocardial infarction, occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is severely reduced or stopped. This occurs when one of the coronary arteries (the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle) is blocked by an obstruction, often plaque buildup on the artery wall, or by a blood clot. As a result, heart muscle cells do not receive enough oxygen and begin to die. This can cause irregular heart rhythms or even sudden cardiac arrest or stopping of the heart beat. Death can result. Coronary heart disease is the chief underlying cause of a heart attack.

How do I know if I am having a heart attack?

  • Chest discomfort
    • Usually in the center of the chest
    • Lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
    • Can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other symptoms, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness

Knowing the signals of a heart attack could save your life. Knowing how to spot a heart attack and taking quick action make the difference between life and death. Even with the vast improvements with emergency cardiac care in our state, many heart attack victims die needlessly. Heart Association studies have found that half of all heart attack victims wait more than two hours before seeking help. The chances of their survival greatly increase if they get help within the crucial first hours after a heart attack, when many of the new "clot-busting" drugs and other emergency procedures are most effective.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

Some risks factors are "modifiable", meaning that individuals who control these factors can slow (or even reverse) the process of arterial blockage and decrease their risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Modifiable factors include:

  • smoking,
  • being overweight,
  • having a sedentary life,
  • high blood pressure,
  • high blood cholesterols levels, and
  • diabetes.

Some CVD risk factors cannot be changed, such as:

  • age,
  • gender,
  • ethnic origin,
  • family history, and
  • most importantly, having had a previous heart attack or stroke oneself.

Individuals with these non-modifiable risk factors should be particularly diligent in avoiding the modifiable risk factors

You can decrease your personal risk of having a heart attack or stroke by eliminating modifiable risks factors

In Louisiana, most adults (>age 18) have at least one modifiable risk factor. The good news is that most of the population had to improve only one or two risk factors to improve health.


How can I reduce my risk of heart disease and stroke?


  • Be tobacco free - Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of heart disease in the US. Tobacco makes your blood clot easier, stiffens the walls of the arteries, increases your blood pressure, and deprives your heart of needed oxygen. The message is simple: if you use tobacco, stop and stay tobacco free; if you don't, don't start .

    And the good news is that the health benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate. One year after quitting smoking, heart attack is cut in half.
  • Stay active - According to the U.S. Surgeon General, doing some kind of moderate physical activity (brisk walking, yard work, house work, climbing stairs) for a total of 30-40 minutes a day, most days week, will make a big difference in reducing your heard disease risk. It keeps your weight down (a big risk all by itself), reduces blood pressure, and helps your body get rid of the "bad" cholesterol. If you have been completely inactive, increase your activity gradually. Recent research shows that you don't have to do daily allotment of physical activity at once. Ten or fifteen minutes at a time will do the trick as long as it adds up to 30-40 minutes most days of the week. It's really simple: just make physical activity part of your regular life.
  • Reduce intake of fat - Dietary fats, especially animal fats, pose another big threat to your heart. The American Heart Association recommends that you keep your fat intake to less than 30 percent of calories, including 10 percent of calories from animal or saturated fats. Use the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "Nutrition Facts" on the labels of all processed food to help you cut down on you fat intake. The American Heart Association also has free dietary recommendation.
  • Eat 5 serving of fruits or vegetables a day - Eating five or more serving of a combination of fruits and vegetables a day has been found to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Monitor your blood pressure - Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading risk for stroke, which is like a heart attack, only in the brain, sometimes called a "brain attack". Stroke is the leading cause of disability among adults and the third leading cause of death in Louisiana. If your blood pressure is 140/90 or over, consult your physician. He or she can help you get it under control.
  • If you are a woman: If you take birth control pills, don't smoke. The combination of the two vastly increases your risk of heart disease. If you are over 55 or have experienced menopause, know that your risk of heart disease has tripled. Taking estrogen replacement therapy can reduce the risk of heart disease associated with menopause.
  • Know your family's heart history : Heart disease often runs in families. If one of your parents has a heart disease, or if one or more of your grandparents died from heart disease, you are at increased risk. If so, don't despair. You can really reduce that risk by taking action now with the above steps. Your family will thank you for it.


How does salt affect my blood pressure?

Salt (sodium) is essential to our bodies. Normally the kidneys control the level of salt. If there is too much salt, the kidneys pass it into urine. But when our salt intake levels are very high, the kidneys cannot keep up and the salt ends up in our bloodstream. Salt attracts water. When there is too much salt in the blood, the salt draws more water into the blood. More water increases the volume of blood which raises blood pressure.

What is the difference between cardiovascular disease and heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to strokes and diseases of the heart. Coronary heart disease (manifested by heart attacks) and strokes are the two CVD diseases which drive the mortality rates and are the most common causes of death in the U.S.

Total cardiovascular disease refers to a group of disease and conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels including coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, hypertensive disease, arterial disorders, and other cardiovascular diseases. Contrary to popular belief, cardiovascular disease is not an inevitable part of the aging process, and treating is will never improve heart health. Rather, lifestyle changes supported by policy and environmental changes can reduce the risk factors and prevent CVD.

Heart disease is the most common form of CVD. While there are several types of heart disease, coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common form. CHD is often characterized by atherosclerosis, angina (chest pain) and heart attacks.

Atherosclerosis is the underlying disease process of coronary heart disease and stroke. It is a slow, progressive process in which the innermost layer of the artery wall becomes damaged, due to factors such as elevated levels of cholesterol and triglyceride in the blood, high blood pressure and the use of tobacco products. Over time, fast cholesterol, fibrin, platelets, cellular debris and calcium (collectively known as plaque) are deposited in the artery wall leading to the thickening of the wall and the narrowing of the artery. This causes a reduction of blood flow and decrease the oxygen reaching the heart and brain.


What is the prevalence of hypertension in African-American women?

African-American women have higher rates of hypertension than White and Hispanic women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44.7% of the Black, non-Hispanic female population over the age of 20 had hypertension between 2001 and 2004, compared to 28.5% of White, non-Hispanic women and 26.4% of Hispanic women.