Causes and Prevention of Heart Disease

It’s true: Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking about 1 in 3 lives. Yet only about 44% of women in the U.S. believe the disease is their greatest health threat.

It’s time to focus on finding and becoming the solution. Here’s what you need to know about the causes of heart disease and stroke ‒ and ways you can prevent it.

What causes cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system. Numerous problems can result from this, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis, a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

But it doesn’t end there. Cardiovascular disease can take many other forms as well:

  • Heart failure or congestive heart failure

    This means that the heart is still working, but it isn’t pumping blood out of the heart as well as it should, or getting enough oxygen to the body the way it should.

  • Arrhythmia or an abnormal rhythm of the heart

    This means the heart is either beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This can affect how well the heart is functioning and whether or not the heart is able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.  

  • Heart valve problems

    This is when the heart valves are not opening enough to allow proper blood flow through the heart then out to the body. Sometimes the heart valves don’t close and blood leaks through, or the valve leaflets bulge or prolapse into the upper chamber, causing blood to flow backward through them. 

  • Stroke

    This happens when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). Part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.  

Can my risk for heart disease and stroke change?

Both men and women can be at risk for heart disease or stroke throughout their lives, but risk factors can change. 

For women, certain life stages such as pregnancy or menopause may impact your cardiovascular health, making it even more important to understand the causes, your personal risk factors and how to prevent heart disease and stroke.

How can I prevent it?

Many things can put you at risk – some you can control, and others you can’t. But the key takeaway is that with the right information, education and care, cardiovascular disease in women can be treated, prevented and even ended.

In fact, the majority of cardiovascular events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes.

Life’s Essential 8 is your guide to improving and maintaining cardiovascular health. Here are the lifestyle changes you should make to live a longer, healthier life:

Knowing your family history is also a key step in prevention. Talk to your health care professional about your family medical history and any known risk factors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your health and your risk. The more you know about what caused health issues or even the death of family members can help you prevent the same thing from happening to you!

Learn more about how you can prevent heart disease and stroke today.