Risk Factors for Heart Attack and Stroke

The Importance of Early Detection for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease, which often leads to heart attacks and strokes, remains the leading cause of death in the industrialized countries of the world. Indeed, nearly half of all deaths in these countries are attributable to cardiovascular disease. Among the various types of cardiovascular disease, arteriosclerosis is particularly lethal because it threatens the normal functioning of the following organs as it progresses:

  • Heart (heart attack)
  • Brain (stroke)
  • Kidneys (renal malfunctioning)
  • Peripheral arteries (peripheral vascular disease)

 

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Risk Factors for Arteriosclerosis in the West

In light of its extraordinary prevalence in the developed countries of the world, it would be a mistake to underestimate the significance of arteriosclerosis and the risk factors associated with its occurrence and progression.

The onset and development of arteriosclerosis in individual patients depends on many largely controllable risk factors, as well as a few non-controllable risk factors:

  • High blood pressure
  • Blood lipid elevation (e.g. high cholesterol)
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Lack of exercise
  • Psychological and emotional stress
  • Elevated homocysteine levels
  • Age (non-controllable)
  • Genetic disposition (non-controllable)

Studies indicate that the rate of coronary artery disease in the West increases from around 13% to around 20% in men pass from the age of 55 to the age of 80. In Germany alone, around 300,000 heart attacks occur every year, with nearly 50% of these resulting in death. Around 35% of those who suffer a heart attack die without even making it to the hospital.

These dramatic figures and the tendency of arteriosclerosis to progress silently, i.e. without initially causing any clear symptoms, underscore the significance of early detection and the introduction of preventive treatment strategies for patients who are risk. It is important in general for medical professionals to be on the uptake for identifying asymptomatic, at-risk patients so as enable a timely response.

What is arteriosclerosis?

Commonly referred to as “hardening of the arteries”, arteriosclerosis refers to a chronic inflammatory disease that usually targets the entire network of arteries in the body and usually leads to a gradual thickening and hardening of the arterial walls, thereby narrowing the space required for normal blood flow and further increasing the patient’s blood pressure. The condition may then worsen significantly as the surface of the arterial walls begins to deteriorate in critical locations under the strain or when the condition is compounded by plaque formation on the surface of the arterial walls (also referred to as atherosclerosis).

The onset and the middle stages of the disease usually go unnoticed. Patients often show no symptoms and are not confronted by the fact of their disease until it has progressed into a life-threatening condition, a condition in which the stage has been set for a catastrophe in the form of a heart attack or a stroke. Around one-third of all heart attack patients remain unaware of the underlying coronary artery disease until the moment of the heart attack. When plaque formation is involved, the inner surface of the arteries may become brittle and rupture. Like other cuts, plaque rupture stimulates the production of blood clots. This clotting process can seriously constrict arteries anywhere in the body and drastically reduce the flow of blood to our vital organs.

Find out more about the subject of early detection & prevention:

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