Heart disease, used interchangeably with the term cardiovascular disease, refers to various conditions relating to the heart. It is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women – responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The heart keeps us alive, so having heart disease can be a very important factor in how long we live,” says Dr. Sharrone N. Hayes, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic.
Heart disease is a big term referring to any disease of the heart, says Dr. Hayes. The most common cause is coronary artery disease, which refers to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Over time, it can lead to narrowing of arteries and risk of a heart attack.
“A heart attack is when part of the heart muscle dies because it is deprived of blood flow or oxygen. And this can occur because it’s a blockage due to a blood clot or plaque, or it can be due to the heart having to work really, really hard that outstrips the oxygen supply.”
Most coronary artery disease is preventable, says Dr. Hayes.
“If you’re smoking, stop. If you’re a couch potato, get up and start taking 10- or 20-minute walks every day. Bump it up. Physical activity is medicine.”