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Understanding the Many Faces of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) can rear its ugly head in many ways. Similar to how there are a number of different kinds of cancer, CVD is merely a category for several heart-related conditions. An estimated 81.1 million adults in the United States are suffering from one or more forms of CVD currently, and the disease claims more lives than any other cause of death in our nation - well over 800,000 per year.

Different forms of CVD present different problems, however. Some forms can take hold over time and may pose no immediate threat for years. Eventually, these can lead to the development of other more serious, even deadly, forms of CVD. Recognizing symptoms when they appear is paramount.


Also known as high-blood pressure, this is the most common form of CVD, affecting nearly 74.5 million people in America. This represents one in three adults. Though the causes of hypertension are largely unknown, it is easily detected and usually controllable. Symptoms of high-blood pressure include headache, swelling of the extremities, and heart palpitations (fluttering sensation in the chest). This condition can be treated with medication and through a large number of therapies.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

The second most common form of CVD, this condition is currently affecting 17.6 million people in the U.S. It is defined as a blockage of the blood vessels that serve the heart muscle. This can be caused by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and/or blood clots. The most common form of CHD is angina pectoris, but the most widely known form of CHD is myocardial infarction - otherwise known as a heart attack. Over 10 million Americans are affected by heart attacks every year. In most cases, this condition is treatable with medication, but if the disease has progressed enough, open heart surgery may be necessary.

Heart Failure

Approximately 5.8 million people in the U.S. are affected by heart failure, which is the inability of cardiac output to meet the metabolic demands of the body. Though there are many possible causes for this form of CVD, common ones include myocardial infarction, congenital valve or muscle disease, and severe hypertension. Symptoms include, among others, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and chest pain.

Cardiac Arrhythmia

This condition is basically an irregular heartbeat, and affects approximately 2.2 million Americans every year. Symptoms can be subtle or profound and disabling, such as palpitations, chest pain, and fainting spells. To diagnose this form of CVD, an electrocardiogram (EKG) is used to determine the type of arrhythmia that is present. In some cases, automatic defibrillators implanted in the body are used to help stop arrhythmias from occurring.