American Heart Month Blog Series Part 1: Heart Disease and Stroke
When President Lyndon Johnson declared the first American Heart Month in February 1964, half the annual deaths in the U.S. were attributed to heart and circulatory system disease. Congress charged the president with issuing an annual proclamation designating February as American Heart Month to raise awareness about heart disease.
Last week, President Donald Trump issued his first proclamation in support of American Heart Month. Today, heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death in the U.S. More than 17 million deaths each year are attributed to heart disease and stroke – a number that is expected to increase to more than 23.6 million by the year 2030.
Each week during the month of February, we will do our part to increase awareness about heart health. We’ll highlight causes of heart disease and stroke, we’ll discuss symptoms and what to do if you suspect heart attack or stroke, and we’ll cover ways to improve and maintain a healthy heart. This week, we’ll focus on the causes of heart disease and stroke as well as the types of diseases that can occur.
What are heart disease and stroke?
Heart disease and stroke are caused by fatty deposits called “plaque” that build up in the walls of arteries that send blood to the heart and brain. The plaque can become unstable and rupture. If this happens, a clot will begin to form in the artery. The clot will continue to grow, which reduces blood flow to the heart and brain. With reduced blood flow, tissue in the heart and brain will begin to die. If the clot closes off the blood flow to an artery or if it breaks away in the artery, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
What are the types of heart and cardiovascular disease?
- Atherosclerosis is commonly known as “hardening of the arteries.” It occurs when plaque has built up in the arteries, narrowing the artery walls. When the artery walls are narrower, blood flow to the heart and brain will be limited. If the plaque breaks, a blood clot will form and eventually block blood flow to the heart and brain. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.
- High blood pressure or hypertension is a condition that causes the pressure in your arteries to be higher than normal. If your blood pressure stays high consistently, you could be at risk for atherosclerosis, heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure is considered a “silent killer” because there may not be signs or symptoms.
- Heart attacks happen when a blood clot cuts off the blood flow in an artery to the heart. The blood clots are formed during atherosclerosis. If a clot completely blocks blood flow, part of the heart muscle will die.
- Heart failure occurs when your heart isn’t able to pump blood the way it should. Your heart is trying to pump blood, but it can’t move the blood to all the parts of your body.
- Strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) are related conditions that happen in the brain. If a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts, it affects how the brain works. If part of the brain can’t work due to stroke or TIA, then it affects how the body works, too.
In next week’s post, we’ll talk about how to keep your heart healthy with tips about diet, physical activity, weight, and more!