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Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is a term that includes several more specific heart conditions. The most common heart disease in the US is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed due to the buildup of plaque. The narrowing and buildup of plaques are called atherosclerosis. Plaques are a mixture of fatty and other substances including cholesterol and other lipids. Blood flow to the heart is reduced, which reduces oxygen to the heart muscle. This can lead to heart attack. Other heart conditions include angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Find out more about heart diseases.

What causes cardiovascular disease?
There are many risk factors that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.  Some people are born with conditions that predispose them to heart disease and stroke, but most people who develop cardiovascular disease do so because of a combination of factors such as poor diet, lack of physical activity and smoking, to name just three.  The more risk factors you expose yourself to, the higher the chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

What are symptoms of heart attack?
The major symptoms of a heart attack are:
  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat or experiencing nausea or light-headedness.

What are the risk factors for heart disease?
Some conditions, as well as some lifestyle factors, can put people at a higher risk for heart disease. The most important modifiable risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cigarette smoking, diabetes, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and obesity. In principle, all persons can take steps to lower their risk for heart disease. For more information about these risk factors, please see our section on risk factors.

What can you do to reduce your risk?
Persons can take steps to lower their risk of developing heart disease by preventing or treating and controlling high blood pressure, preventing or treating and controlling high blood cholesterol, by not using tobacco, by preventing or controlling diabetes, and by maintaining an adequate physical activity, weight, and a healthy diet. Persons being treated for conditions or risk factors should follow the guidance of their health care providers.

What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance used by the body to build cell walls. Your liver produces cholesterol and you absorb it from the animal fats you eat.
Cholesterol is carried through the blood by particles called lipoproteins. There are two types: low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). The former carries the cholesterol around the body in the blood and the latter transports cholesterol out of the blood into the liver.
When cholesterol is too high, or the levels of the two types are out of balance (dyslipidaemia), the cholesterol can clog the arteries affecting the flow of the blood.

What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are fats found in the blood that are important for muscle energy.  They travel through the blood in lipoproteins. As triglyceride levels rise, HDL cholesterol levels fall. Very high levels can lead to diabetes, pancreatitis, and chronic kidney disease and are associated with heart disease.

What is the connection between high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease?
Blood moving through your arteries pushes against the arterial walls; this force is measured as blood pressure.

How is coronary heart disease diagnosed?
There are a number of ways to diagnose coronary heart disease. Your physician will probably use a number to make a definitive diagnosis.
Coronary Angiogram or more commonly known as Angiography uses a dye inserted into your arteries and an x-ray to see how the blood flows through your heart. The picture was taken, the angiogram, will show any atherosclerosis.
Another test is an electrocardiogram or ECG.  This test records the electrical activity of your heart.  An electrocardiogram measures the rate and regularity of heartbeats, the size and position of the heart chambers, the presence of any damage to the heart, and the effects of drugs or devices used to regulate the heart. It is a non-invasive procedure.

How are smoking and heart disease linked?
Smoking damages the lining of blood vessels increases fatty deposits in the arteries increases blood clotting; adversely affects blood lipid levels, and promotes coronary artery spasm. Nicotine accelerates the heart rate and raises blood pressure.

Does diet play a part in the development of heart disease?
Diet plays a significant role in protecting or predisposing people to heart disease. Diets high in animal fat, low in fresh vegetables and fruit, and high in alcohol have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
Adopting a diet low in fat and salt has a protective effect over the long term. This means whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
 
How do the symptoms of a heart attack differ between men and women?
The symptoms of heart attack in a man are intense chest pain, pain in the left arm or jaw and difficulty breathing.
A woman may have some of the same symptoms, but her pain may be more diffuse, spreading to the shoulders, neck, arms, abdomen and even her back. A woman may experience pain more like indigestion. The pain may not be consistent. There may not be a pain but unexplained anxiety, nausea, dizziness, palpitations and cold sweat. A woman’s heart attack may have been preceded by unexplained fatigue.
Women also tend to have more severe first heart attacks that more frequently lead to death, compared to men.
  
Is heart disease hereditary?
Heart disease can run in some families. But even if you inherit the risks factors that predispose you to heart disease, such as high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, or being overweight, there are measures you can take that will help you avoid developing cardiovascular disease.