The circulatory system carries water, oxygen and nutrients to all the cells in the body. This vital function requires the three components of the system; the heart works as the motor, the blood vessels provide the highways, and the blood, the vehicle, carries the necessary substances. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are related because dysfunction of the blood vessels affects the heart and dysfunctions of the heart affect the blood vessels.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, describes a group of diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels. As the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, according to the Mayo Clinic, heart disease causes 40 percent of all deaths in the United States. Heart disease includes any condition or disease that affects the ability of the heart to pump effectively, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, congenital heart defects, infections of the heart and arrhythmia---heart rhythm problems.
What is the Most Common Type of Heart Disease?
In the United States, the most common type of heart disease remains coronary artery disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary artery disease occurs when plaque, a substance consisting of fat, cholesterol and calcium, builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. The buildup of plaque restricts the flow of blood to the heart, resulting in chest pain, known as angina, and can lead to other heart diseases, including a heart attack, heart failure or arrhythmias.
Other Blood Vessel Diseases
Vasculitis, another type of blood vessel disease, occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the blood vessels in the body, resulting in inflammation. The restricted blood flow caused by the inflammation can cause damage to the organs, including the heart. The buildup of plaque in the arteries leading to the legs results in peripheral artery disease. Peripheral artery disease increases the risk for coronary artery disease, heart attack, strokes and mini-strokes by six to seven times over those who do not have the disease, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
Symptoms of Heart and Blood Vessel Diseases
The symptoms of heart disease vary depending on the type of disease. Chest pain, often described as a tightening or squeezing feeling, occurs in many types of heart disease. Because heart and blood vessel diseases inhibit the flow of oxygenated blood through the body, other common symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness and fainting. Conditions that alter the rhythmic beating of the heart, including heart valve problems and arrhythmias, can cause a racing heartbeat, a slow heartbeat or heart palpitations.
Complications of Heart and Blood Vessel Diseases
Heart and blood vessel diseases that remain untreated or fail to respond to treatment can lead to serious complications. Sudden cardiac arrest causes an unexpected loss of heart function and can lead to sudden cardiac death. Heart failure, a condition that occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body, occurs when the heart muscle becomes too weak due to the stress from the diseases. An unhealthy heart or blood vessels increases the risk for the formation of blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.