Cardiovascular Disease: Symptoms and Prevention

John Baer, D.O.
February 20, 2018
With cardiovascular disease so prevalent, it is important to know what signs and symptoms to watch out for.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the leading causes of death worldwide. About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, 370,000 of which die from coronary artery disease (CDC).


Heart disease is a costly illness and vast amounts of money, procedures, and medications allocated to this illness will not eradicate its prevalence. The key to optimizing our chances against this disease is through prevention, education, and lifestyle modification.


Not only is being healthy important for longevity but, “. Every habit that injures the health reacts upon the mind. That time is well spent which is directed to the establishment and preservation of sound physical and mental health," (CT, 298).


Years of research have uncovered common risk factors that are intimately linked to CVD.


These risk factors include:


Being overweight or obese

Unhealthy diet

Low physical activity



Diabetes mellitus (considered in several guidelines as a coronary heart disease risk equivalent)


The Framingham Heart study of more than 5,000 men and women found that those presenting five risk factors have a 30-35% risk of a cardiac event in the following 10 years. This is similar to the rate of many patients who have already had a prior heart attack (myocardial infarction) or stroke.


The key to risk reduction is early identification of risk factors combined with early lifestyle modification and intervention, and use of medication in instances where lifestyle changes are not enough. You will notice that all these modifiable risk factors are interconnected.



A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fiber is key. Actively seek to pick low glycemic index foods. When choosing fats favor monounsaturated fats rather than trans fatty or saturated fats. Mediterranean and vegetarian diets with limited animal fats will reduce your risk of CVD.



Cigarette smoke continues to be the leading cause of premature death and disability. Benefits of cessation can be seen after only a few months even in older adults. It is never too late to quit and improve your cardiac health.



A well-known CVD risk factor, high blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure >130mmHg and a diastolic pressure > 80mm Hg. Weight loss, exercise, salt restriction, stress management, and avoidance of alcohol, all help to minimize the risk of high blood pressure. If blood pressure remains high despite measures to optimize lifestyle, see a doctor regarding other therapies or medications.



High lipids in the body have been shown to increase the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke, as well as mortality. These can be lowered with a low-fat plant-based diet, weight loss, and exercise. If all of these are maximized and cholesterol levels remain high, discuss other treatment options with your physician.



Regular exercise is important in childhood and throughout adulthood. Common recommendations are moderate intensity exercise 150 minutes per week and 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.


Weight loss:

Obesity is competing with smoking as a leading cause of avoidable death. Obesity increases hypertension, CVD, dyslipidemia, and insulin resistance, which causes diabetes. 


Type 2 diabetes:

Type 2 diabetes has become a terrible cause of morbidity and mortality in our society, largely due to the prevalence of obesity. If blood sugar is not strictly controlled and the lifestyle drastically changed, damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, and even nervous system will occur.


With cardiovascular disease so prevalent, it is important to know what signs and symptoms to watch out for. Remember, even if you are not sure if you are having a heart attack call 9-1-1. Minutes matter. Heart attack symptoms may be subtle like chest pressure and shortness of breath with mild exertion or emotional stress. On the other hand, more intense symptoms may occur, such as severe pain, pressure or squeezing in the chest, shooting pain into the left arm and/or even up to the neck. One may develop nausea, vomiting, back and jaw pain. If you feel that something is not right, do not ignore it. Remember, 47%—that’s nearly half of sudden cardiac deaths—occur outside the hospital, suggesting that many people with heart disease do not act immediately on warning signs.


Finally, let us remember that prevention and staying healthy is better than trying to reverse decades of poor health choices. Each one of us, in our physical and spiritual lives, will have our destiny determined by the millions of decisions we make every moment of our lives.


“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life," Proverbs 4: 23. 



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