Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for adults in Canada. It develops as cholesterol and other cellular debris gradually builds up inside the blood vessels. This condition is called atherosclerosis, which is the narrowing of the arteries caused by the build-up of debris. As the blood vessels become narrower, the amount of blood going through the vessels becomes limited. The blood vessels responsible for oxygenating the heart itself are called the coronary arteries and disease to these blood vessels is called Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). CAD can lead to angina and heart attacks, which is discussed later in this chapter.
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the inside walls of the blood vessels. Blood pressure can go up (high) or down (low). If someone experiences stress, his or her blood pressure can go up. If someone is more relaxed, his or her blood pressure goes down. In some people, blood pressure stays high. This constant state of high blood pressure is called hypertension. Over time, hypertension can damage the blood vessels causing them to lose their elasticity and become thick. It can also cause the heart to enlarge. Hypertension can cause serious problems that can result in heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure can be controlled by losing weight, changing your diet and taking medications when prescribed. Blood pressure is measured at its highest and lowest points. Blood pressure is at its highest when the heart contracts to pump blood. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart is atrest between beats, the pressure falls and is called the diastolic pressure. A person’s blood pressure is expressed as these two values – the systolic “over” the diastolic. For example, normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 or 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). It is important to “know your numbers” when it comes to high blood pressure. Blood pressure that is consistently more than 140/90 is considered high, but 130/80 is considered high if the person has diabetes.
Controlling risk factors can dramatically reduce cardiovascular disease. This usually means a change in lifestyle. A risk factor is an act or characteristic that increases the possibility of developing cardiovascular disease. Take the time to look at your own lifestyle and try to make positive changes.
Controllable Risk Factors
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, more than 47,000 Canadians will die prematurely each year due to smoking, and almost 8,000 non-smokers die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke. Smoking contributes to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, increases the risk of blood clots, reduces the oxygen in the blood, increases blood pressure and makes the heart work harder. Smoking also nearly doubles the risk of ischemic stroke.
Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death.