Cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, are our nation's number one killer. To urge Americans to join the battle against these diseases, since 1963 Congress has required the president to proclaim February "American Heart Month." During American Heart Month, thousands of volunteers visit their neighbors. Their goal is to raise funds for research and education and pass along information about heart disease and stroke.
The normal heart is a strong, muscular pump a littler larger than a fist. It pumps blood continuously through the circulatory system. Each day the average heart beats or expands and contracts 100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. In a 70-year lifetime, an average human heart beats more than 2.5 billion times.
The circulatory system is the network of elastic tubes through which blood flows, carrying oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. The system includes the heart, lungs, arteries, arterioles (small arteries) and capillaries, as well as venules (small veins) and veins, which return the blood to the heart. If all these vessels were laid end to end, they would extend far enough to encircle the earth more than twice.
Circulating blood takes oxygen and nutrients to all the body's organs and tissues, including the heart itself. It also picks up waste products from the body's cells. These waste products are removed as they are filtered through the kidneys, liver and lungs.
The American Heart Association has identified several risk factors for coronary heart disease. Some of them can be modified, treated or controlled, and some can't. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing coronary heart disease. Also, the greater the level of each risk factor, the greater the risk.
The major risk factors that can't be changed are increasing age, gender and heredity, including race. About four out of five people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely than men are to die from them within a few weeks.
Children of parents with heart disease are more likely to develop it themselves. African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asians Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can't control your age, sex, and race, you can't control your family history. Therefore, it's even more important to treat and control any other risk factors you have.
Risk factors that you can modify, treat or control by changing your lifestyle or taking medicine are tobacco use, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and overweight, and diabetes mellitus.
Other risk factors that contribute to heart disease that can be controlled are stress and too much alcohol.