Heart Disease Causes

Heart Disease Causes

What are the Causes?

  • Certain factors increase the risk of a heart attack. Some can be changed, while others are inherited.
  • The major factors individuals can’t change include age, gender and heredity.
  • Four out of five deaths from the disease are in people over age 65. In this age group, women are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as men. Women are more likely to die from heart disease than from all forms of cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, diabetes, accidents and AIDS combined.
  • However, men have a greater life-long risk of heart attack, and experience attacks earlier in life.
  • Another major factor that can’t be changed is heredity. You’re at greater risk for it if your parents had heart disease.
  • The major factors individuals can change include smoking, high blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, obesity, physical inactivity and being overweight.
  • Smokers have twice as high a risk of heart attack as nonsmokers, and have two to four times the risk of sudden cardiac death. Smokers are also more likely to die quickly and suddenly than nonsmokers.
  • People exposed to second-hand smoke may also have an increased risk.
  • Among racial groups, African-Americans have the highest death rates from the disease. This may be due to their higher rates of high blood pressure; 29 out of every 100 black adults have high blood pressure, compared to 26 out of every 100 white adults. High blood pressure is also generally more severe among elderly African-Americans than elderly whites, leading to more cases of strokes, heart disease and kidney failure.
  • High cholesterol increases the risk of coronary heart disease. This factor is even more important when other factors are present, such as diet or smoking.
  • High blood pressure makes the heart pump more and faster, causing it to enlarge and weaken. The risk is compounded with other factors, such as obesity, smoking, diabetes or high blood cholesterol.
  • Individuals who don’t exercise and/or are obese also put themselves at greater risk. Excess weight strains the heart; influences blood pressure, blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels; and increases the risk of diabetes.
  • Diabetes also increases the risk of heart disease. Heart disease kills more than 80% of people with diabetes.
  • Stress may also contribute to the development of heart disease, because people may overeat, exercise less or smoke more when they’re under stress.

What are the Symptoms?

  • People with artery blockages may experience angina, a discomfort caused by inadequate blood flow. Individuals may experience pain in the chest, arms, neck or back — generally lasting up to 20 minutes after exertion — and have it consistently in the same area, such as the chest.
  • If the heart disease leads to a heart attack, women are more likely than men to experience nausea or vomiting instead of the violent chest pain that characterizes a heart attack for men. In fact, women may feel no chest pain during a heart attack.
  • You should call your doctor if you experience severe or prolonged angina that lasts longer than 10 to 15 minutes; pain that spreads to the neck, arms or shoulders; or pain along with shortness of breath, nausea, fainting or sweating. If you experience these symptoms, you may be having a heart attack.
  • Chest pains that usually aren’t caused by heart problems last under five seconds in different parts of the chest, and are caused by deep breaths or movements, not exertion.
  • Less common signs of a heart attack include unexplained fatigue, weakness or anxiety.

References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health.

last update: December 2008

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