What is Heart Disease?

Heart Disease is a general term used to describe various diseases and syndromes of the heart and blood vessels.  Included in the definition are diseases such as coronary artery disease, heart arrhythmia, heart valve disease, heart failure, and congenital heart defects, among others.

Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women worldwide, but may be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.  The symptoms of heart disease vary dependent on the specific condition but include chest pain, shortness of breath, fluttering in the chest, swelling in the lower limbs, and fatigue.  Symptoms of a myocardial infarction (or heart attack) tend to be different between men and women, with women experiencing more subtle symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and nausea.  Consequently, it may be more difficult for health professionals to diagnose and respond to a heart attack in a woman.  In addition, recent research has shown that women suffer disproportionately than men from coronary artery disease in the small vessels (arterioles) as opposed to the larger arteries.  This may further complicate diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in women.

Causes of heart and cardiovascular disease include poor diet, little exercise, obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure, but may also be caused by congenital defects.  A healthy diet and exercise along with maintenance of blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress may help reduce the risk of heart disease.  Treatments for heart disease include lifestyle changes, medication, and in some cases surgery, and it is best treated when diagnosed early.

Resources at Northwestern for Heart Disease:

The Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital offers state-of-the-art treatment in all areas of cardiovascular care.  Patients receive a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to treatment and prevention from physicians, nurses and other healthcare providers specializing in cardiology, cardiac surgery, vascular medicine and surgery, cardiovascular anesthesiology, cardiac behavioral medicine and radiology, among others.  The Institute is comprised of six heart health centers for atrial fibrulation, coronary disease, heart failure, heart valve disease, vascular disease, and women’s cardiovascular health.  The Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center offers treatment specifically designed for women, tailoring treatment plans to optimize their specific cardiovascular needs.  The Center is also committed to promoting women’s awareness of cardiovascular health, highlighting the differences in symptoms and risk factors for women.

For more information call: (866) 662-8467 (toll free)

Northwestern Physicians/Researchers specializing in Heart Disease:

Researchers at the Feinberg Cardiovascular Research Institute are committed to exploring complex problems in cardiovascular research including molecular, cellular, stem cell and imaging technology research.   Investigators at the Institute work in areas of basic science and clinical research.  The innovative program in Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine seeks out new ways of growing new cardiac tissue as opposed to improving function of damaged tissues.  The program provides researchers with the means to bring basic science research into use in clinical trials.  Led by Dr. Douglas Losordo, MD, clinical trials are being conducted for treatment in the areas of coronary artery disease, heart failure, and vascular disease.

For more information visit: http://www.fcvri.northwestern.edu/index.html

IWHR Highlighted Researcher

Dr. Mercedes Carnethon is an Assistant Professor of Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.  She earned her PhD in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina in 2000 and joined the faculty of Northwestern in 2002.  Her research interests include the role of the nervous system on cardiovascular disease (CVD), the relationship between fitness and cardiovascular health and the effects of sleep on the risk for CVD.  She is a member of several professional societies including the American College of Epidemiology and the American Heart Association.  Most recently, Dr. Carnethon has initiated a study to evaluate how sleep duration might affect a patient’s risk for cardiovascular disease.  Previous studies have evaluated patients with major sleep disturbances, such as sleep apnea, or have used sleep deprivation to evaluate the relationship.   Dr. Carnethon’s study will more closely mirror how women and men sleep during a normal week, and compare their sleep duration to indicators of their cardiovascular health.  The study hopes to justify the recommendations for total amount of sleep that an adult might need to maintain his or her heart health.

Photo: The Heart Truth Campaign

Photo: The Heart Truth Campaign

Upcoming Public Events:

NMH Annual Cardiovascular Symposium:  Heart Health – What Smart Women Need to Know, February 24, 2010, Prentice Women’s Hospital

Don't Forget - National Wear Red Day® is February 5th!



Everyone should take an American Heart CPR class. You never know when you will need to be prepared to 'save a life"

Just wanted to say your post is brilliant. The clearness in your post is simply striking and I can assume you are an expert on this subject…. I was share your blog on Twitter.

My husband and I have tried several diets over the last few years and agree with Anonymous above that a change in lifestyle habits is central to the success of any diet. We have recently started following the "Dukan Diet" an high protein, low fat, low carbs diet that has a long term strategy involving changing our attitude to the food we prepare and eat. Rather than being 'spartan' it has an approach based on meals with all the trimmings like sauces, entrees and deserts. Planning and preparing our meals has now become a creative delight and sitting down to lush meals is the best way to keep us on track.

Preventative medicine is where it is at. Too bad the NIH prefers to fund basic research and "cures" research.

Heart disease is a serious issue and one that is important to me as I have seen my father suffer with it for over 30 years! Thankfully modern medicine has kept him alive and living a fairly normal life. There are things one can do to lessen the risk of heart disease even if you have it in your genes like I do! Exercise is important, but also eating the right types of foods like fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and avoiding red meat. Cooking with olive oil and using it instead of butter is a good idea too.

With the current healthcare debate going on, Heart Month couldn't have come at a better time! Great post Michelle! Poor diet and little time for exercise is the root cause driving up obesity and heart disease in America, and I'm glad to see it getting some attention at least for one month out of the year.

More emphasis on global lifestyle changes is needed, since modifying habits is the most effective way to lower one's risk profile. Increased availability of lifestyle makeover programs encompassing alterations in diet, exercise, and risk behaviors would be a positive step. Most studies show that modifying behavior patterns for a 3-4 week period can lead to permanent changes. Lifestyle modification should be viewed by patients as a transformational experience instead of a short-term punitive exercise. Healthy food choices should be incorporated into attractive and tasty meals, not unsustainable spartan fare. Exercise programs should be varied and tailored to individual preferences. Attention needs to be paid to proper sleep hygiene, combined with relaxation techniques and other stress reducing activities. Properly structured, a lifestyle makeover provides strong positive feedback to the patient in an increased sense of wellness, reduced fatigue, and a better self image. For many, the discomfort associated with chronic disorders, such as osteoarthritis may be reduced, increasing motivation to continue with the new behavior patterns after the program is finished.

Keep your body alkaline, fit and eat healthy. However who has time to find out what is healthy and what isn't? Most people want a quick summary so next time they shop they can get what they need. This book on amazon.com aims to help people who are busy but want to look after their health. <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Healthy-Eating-Weight-Naturally-Step/dp/1452833265/" rel="nofollow">healthy eating tips</a>

Would another Causes of heart and cardiovascular disease include stress too. I do agree that diet plays a big part, that is why i am convinced on taking vitamins as food does not necessarily give us all the nutrients we need in our stressful lives!

The modern life style is the main culprit for today's major diseases. Junk food culture has affected a big percentage of the population with cardiovascular disease and diabeted. Know the causes and avoid them from getting serious sicknesses.

Hi.... Great post! Heart disease is really the number one killer of both men and women worldwide, but may be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.

once again, it is February and we must bring these health issues and concerns out in the open more than just once a year. As someone who lost a loved to heart disease and who struggles with HBP, I find it refreshing that more people are taking the time to educate themselves about the issues we face. Our society has become way to obsessed with food and neglected health. Please bring these issues out in the open more! Thanks for the great post.

The food we ate as women contribute to the increasing number of heart disease victims. Lean meat helps reduce it and having a healthy active lifestyle could really turn the clock around. Consider the food and the amount you take to have a healthier heart and just like they always say "less stress".

Very nice thoughts i am enjoying to visit your or can say its my pleasure to visit your blog and got a lot of new tips and tricks to work on..

Cardiovascular disease is a subject I would not have considered just 6 weeks ago. But then I had a heart attack. Now, the more I learn about it the more concerned I get. For the past 6 years I have maintained a strict healthy lifestyle. I have followed a low carbohydrate diet, I haven't smoked for 25 years and I don't drink alcohol. I exercise at least 1/2 hour a day. I have now cut down on my daily intake of calcium. What more can I do? Kirsten

If you love someone with heart disease then take some time to learn CPR. It may just give them a better chance. New CPR Guidelines were released in 2010 using "DRS ABCD" to make it easier to remember. D Check for Danger R Check for Responsiveness S Send for help A Open Airway B Check for normal Breathing C Start CPR - 30 chest impressions: 2 rescue breaths D Attach defibrillator (AED) as soon as available and follow prompts

Great info here on heart disease. There are so many people these days getting stents and surgery. A little bit of prevention can go a long way. A healthy lifestyle is the best way to stay ahead of the curve.

Great info on heart disease. I am very passionate about increasing people's wellbeing through diet and exercise - I think the world could be a better place if people changed the way they think about health, and the way they prioritise their lives.

Very informative article. We need more articles like this to inform people on the dangers of heart disease. I lost my father at a young age due to heart attack from poor eating and smoking. Keep up the good work.

For women there are subtle symptoms of heart attack, and they can be challenging to diagnose. Heart attacks are always unexpected, we encourage women to learn to recognize the signs and listen to their bodies. Having your family trained in CPR is so important, as 88% of cardiac arrests occur in the home.

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Hello. Certainly loved checking out your article. It was especially informative and helpful. I trust you do not mind me blogging concerning this post on my own internet site. Will definitely link back to you. Nice site theme! Gracias.

Genetically, I have a weak heart and many members of my family have fallen victim to heart disease. However the ones that remain have all recommended a few things; not to eat too much junk food (seems obvious), exercise to keep the cardiovascular system healthy and in good working order, to avoid too much salt and to avoid smoking. Simple enough advice but seems to be keeping them going. My grandfather is 90 and he swears by this information.

You know you really have a beautiful way of writing and articulating your perspective on the world, that’s a real talent and you should continue to develop it!