# Friday, February 26, 2010
                 
Ischemic heart disease is the most common type of cardiovascular disease and affects men and women both equally. While factors such as age and/or heredity to contribute to the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, the majority of cases found in Canadians were related to risk factors that are modifiable. The major risk factors for cardiovascular disease are:

  • Smoking: Smoking greatly increases the risk of the development of blocked arteries, blood clots, reduction of oxygen in the blood as well as increased blood pressure. Smoking, either first and/or second hand are harmful to human health in general, and specifically is high-risk for developing ischemic heart disease and stroke. Non-smokers can die just as prematurely from second-hand smoke; smoking nearly doubles the risk of stroke as well. Quitting smoking not only provides immediate but also long lasting health benefits; within hours of smoking cessation the risk of heart attack already begins to decrease.
  • Lack of Exercise: People who are physically inactive have twice the risk of having heart disease as well as a stroke. More than half of the Canadian population reports to being inactive; for those who have already experienced a heart attack, it is vital to have and maintain a healthy level of exercise in order to increase chances of survival.
  • Unhealthy Eating: 56% of Canadians report eating less than 5 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables per day, with the minority only reporting that they eat fresh fruit and vegetables in the amounts recommended in Canada's Food Guide. Not only do fresh fruits and vegetables protect the heart and blood vessels, but they provide fiber and contain anti-oxidants (substances which work against the development of blockage in the arteries).
  • High Cholesterol: Cholesterol is one of the fats in the blood that contributes to the growth of all cells in the body. Too much cholesterol ca lead to blockage of the arteries. There are 2 main types of cholesterol:
    1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol is most often referred to as "bad cholesterol" because it's high levels contribute to artery blockage.
    2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is most often referred to as "good cholesterol" because it helps to carry LDL-cholesterol away from the artery walls.
  • Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol but they are, however, a type of fat thatis found in the blood and are linked with excess weight, excessive alcohol consumption and/or diabetes.
  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): This is the measure of the force (pressure) of blood against the walls of the blood vessels (arteries). The top number of a blood pressure reading represents the pressure when the heart contracts and pushes blood out (systolic) and the bottom number is the lowest pressure when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic). Blood pressure that is consistently more than 140/90 mmHg is considered high, although for those people who have diabetes, 130/80 mmHg is considered high. High blood pressure can, over an extended period of time, cause scarring that promotes the build-up of fatty plaque which is a substance that can narrow and eventually block the arteries. Fatty plaque also causes strain to the heart, initially causing a thickening of the heart muscle and eventually causing the heart to weaken. Very high blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst, resulting in a stroke. While high blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, it is also the number one modifiable risk factors for strokes. More than 2.6 million Canadians have been diagnosed with hypertension; there is a possibility that just as many people are living with hypertension and are simply not aware of it. It is expected that more than 90% of people 55-65 with normal blood pressure are expected to develop high blood pressure over their lifetime. In 2007 21 million Canadians visited community physicians due to high blood pressure; blood pressure medication that is prescribed by a physician has also risen. Approximately 2.3 billion dollars a year are spent on direct costs of high blood pressure.
  • Sodium: While the human body does require some sodium in order to function in a healthy manner, too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which in turn is a major risk for strokes, heart disease, and/or kidney disease.
  • Obesity/Overweight: Being significantly overweight and/or obese increases the risk of developing a wide range of serious health issues, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes as well as high blood pressure.
  • Stress: High levels of stress and/or prolonged stress may manifest itself in a physical sense, causing high cholesterol, increased blood pressure, and/or disturbances in heart rhythm. These conditions can all increase the risk of developing heart disease. As well, for some people, living with high levels of stress may cause them to not get enough rest, a proper diet, regular physical exercise etc. which in turn are all factors that can elevate the risks of heart disease.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes occurs when insulin does not control the level of sugar in the body, either because not enough insulin is produced or because the body does not react properly to the insulin that is produced. Insulin is then required to break down sugar in the body. Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and strokes, particularly for those whose sugar levels are poorly controlled. Diabetes can result in poor circulation caused by damage to the blood vessels.
The third and final blog in this series will provide information on how to lower the risks of cardiovascular disease as well as the current treatment methods; this blog will be available within the next 10-14 days.
 

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