High blood pressure and heart disease are two of the main causes of illness and death in the world. The proper medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. The medical term for heart disease is cardiovascular disease. Hypertension is, by definition, a form of cardiovascular disease. These conditions often lead to long-term health issues, disability, and death for many Americans and individuals across the world. In the United States, heart disease is the number one cause of death. For the majority of individuals, the disease is preventable. There are some risk factors for the disease, however, that cannot be modified by the individual. It is important to understand what risk factors can be modified and how to do this. This will allow an individual to live a healthier life.

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Cardiovascular disease refers to any condition that adversely impacts the heart or blood vessels. The heart pumps blood throughout the body. This allows the cells to receive oxygen and nutrients. The blood also carries waste products away from the cells. The blood is pumped through vessels; this is a network of veins and arteries and capillaries. Cardiovascular disease can occur in any of these. Heart disease may also refer to problems within the heart’s electrical system. This may result in a dysrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. It may also lead to other diseases, such as a stroke. Some forms of cardiovascular disease may be present from birth in an individual. However, the majority of them develop with age and poor health choices (American Heart Association).

The most common type of cardiovascular disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD occurs when the arteries of the heart become narrow. This is a result of plaques developing along the inside of the arteries. The plaques are hardened cholesterol deposits. Because of these, the arteries cannot dilate or constrict to meet the needs of the heart at various times. Also, because the arteries are narrowed, blood flow to the heart muscle, or myocardium, is diminished (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]).

CAD can often lead to a heart attack, or a myocardial infarction (MI). An MI is a serious event that often leads to death or disability. During an MI, the blood flow to part of the myocardium has been disrupted. When the heart muscle does not receive blood, nutrients and oxygen, it begins to die. The extent of the heart muscle death depends upon several things. These include the length of time blood flow was disrupted and the size of the affected area. The obstruction of a large coronary artery obviously will lead to worse outcomes than the obstruction of a smaller coronary artery. Each year, over 700,000 Americans suffer a heart attack (CDC).

Hypertension refers to high blood pressure. Blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure contained within the blood vessels. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. The top number represents the systolic blood pressure, or the pressure when the heart is at work. The lower number is the diastolic blood pressure, or the pressure when the heart is at rest. High blood pressure occurs when the pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher. An individual has high blood pressure if either number is over these readings. There are times when a person’s blood pressure will be high. These include periods of stress, during exercise and other episodes when the body is working harder than normal. However, if the blood pressure is chronically high or if the pressure is high when at rest, the person has hypertension. This increases the risk of advanced heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and other conditions. As with heart disease, it is mostly preventable (National Institutes of Health [NIH]).

Hypertension and heart disease have a number of known “risk factors.” A risk factor is something that increases an individual’s chance of developing a disease. Risk factors may be modifiable or non-modifiable. A person can work to change a modifiable risk factor. An individual cannot change a risk factors that cannot be modified. Because of this, it is even more important for an individual to reduce modifiable risk factors. Risk factors that cannot be modified include age, sex, race and family history. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age. Also, men are more likely than women to suffer from heart disease. However, as women age, their risk eventually increases to equal that of men. Certain races and ethnicities are more prone to cardiovascular disease. African-Americans are at a great risk. Native Americans are also at a significant risk. Asians tend to have a reduced risk of these diseases. Individuals with a family history of cardiac disease are also at increased risk (Mayo Clinic).

Risk factors that can be modified include diet, exercise, body weight, and tobacco use. It is important to eat a healthy diet. This includes a diet low in saturated fats and sodium. Also, an individual should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fiber. These things have been shown to protect an individual from heart disease. Exercise is also a crucial component towards maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. An individual should strive to engage in at least thirty minutes of aerobic activity five to six days a week. Individuals who do not exercise regularly are at greater risk for obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease. Aerobic activity strengthens the heart and reduces the risk for heart disease. It is also crucial for individuals not to utilize tobacco products. Tobacco products, such as cigarettes and cigars, increase the risk for hypertension, heart disease, cancer and a number of other conditions (Mayo Clinic).

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans and individuals worldwide. It can affect the heart or the blood vessels. Hypertension specifically refers to high blood pressure. A number of risk factors, called non-modifiable risk factors, cannot be changed. However, individuals can eat a healthy diet, exercise and not use tobacco products. These choices help to prevent heart disease in individuals.