Key causes of heart disease: what you need to know

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, affecting millions of people each year.

It refers to a range of conditions affecting the heart’s structure and functions, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure.

Understanding the causes of heart disease can help in prevention and management. Here, we explore the most common causes backed by research, presented in plain language for easy understanding.

One of the most significant contributors to heart disease is unhealthy lifestyle choices. Poor diet, lack of physical activity, and smoking are top on this list.

Diets high in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol have been linked to coronary artery disease, where plaque builds up in the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart.

Additionally, excessive salt intake can lead to high blood pressure, which stresses the heart and arteries, potentially leading to heart disease.

Physical inactivity also plays a crucial role. Regular exercise helps maintain heart health by improving blood circulation and reducing cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Without it, the risk of heart disease increases significantly.

Smoking is another major risk factor. It not only damages the lining of the arteries but also reduces oxygen in the blood and raises blood pressure — all of which increase the risk of heart disease.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is often called the “silent killer” because it doesn’t always cause symptoms until serious damage is done. Hypertension makes the heart work harder than normal, which can lead to its weakening over time, contributing to heart disease.

High cholesterol is another critical factor. Cholesterol is a fatty substance necessary for building cells, but too much of it can clog arteries and lead to heart disease.

There are two main types of cholesterol: LDL (bad) and HDL (good). High levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of plaque formation in the arteries, while low levels of HDL cholesterol fail to remove other forms of cholesterol effectively.

Diabetes significantly increases the risk of developing heart disease. High blood sugar from diabetes can damage blood vessels and the nerves that control the heart.

People with diabetes are often at higher risk of hypertension and abnormal cholesterol levels, compounding their risk for coronary artery disease.

Obesity is also linked to heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that strain the heart, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Genetics can play a role too. If your family has a history of heart disease, you might be more prone to developing it. While you can’t change your genetics, knowing your family history can encourage early monitoring and preventive measures.

Age is another non-modifiable risk factor. Simply getting older increases the risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and weakened or thickened heart muscle.

Stress and poor sleep are often overlooked causes. Chronic stress and lack of sleep can lead to behaviors that increase heart disease risk like poor diet choices, less exercise, and increased smoking or alcohol use.

In conclusion, while some risk factors like age and genetics cannot be changed, many leading causes of heart disease can be managed through lifestyle changes.

Eating a balanced diet low in saturated fats, cholesterol, and salt, regular physical activity, not smoking, managing stress, and maintaining a healthy weight are crucial steps in preventing heart disease.

Awareness and proactive management of blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes are also key. Understanding these causes provides powerful knowledge for reducing your risk and leading a healthier life.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk, and herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

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