What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Steven Mott by Steven Mott | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/16/2018

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It’s important to know what cardiovascular disease is so you can know your risk. Cardiovascular disease is a term given to a number of medical conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, is the leading cause of death in both men and women, responsible for one out of every four deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Every year, about 735,000 people suffer heart attacks, and over 600,000 people die from heart disease. If your doctor has diagnosed you with heart disease, or suggested you may be at high risk for the disease, it’s important to understand the facts and to learn about Medicare coverage of heart disease.

Types of cardiovascular disease

According to the American Heart Association, some types of cardiovascular disease include:

Congestive heart failure

Congestive heart failure, also called heart failure or cardiac failure, does not mean that the heart has stopped working, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood sufficiently enough to meet the body’s needs. Heart failure can affect one or both sides of the heart.

Arrhythmia

Arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats too fast, slow, or irregularly. An arrhythmia may make it difficult for the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, according to the American Heart Association.

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women. Plaque can accumulate in the arteries that flow to the heart, causing them to narrow and possibly lead to inadequate blood flow, according to the CDC. When the heart muscle can’t get the blood or oxygen it needs, this can lead to a heart attack.

What are risk factors for cardiovascular disease?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some of the most common risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Age and gender (your risk increases with age, and men are at greater risk than pre-menopausal women)

What are the symptoms of cardiovascular disease?

According to the NIH, there are many possible symptoms of heart disease, and they vary – not everyone will have the same symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms for the various types of heart disease include, according to Mayo Clinic:

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, and chest pressure
  • Fatigue, shortness of breath, swelling in the legs and feet
  • Fluttering or racing heartbeat, or feeling your heart skip a beat
  • Some people have chest pain or shortness of breath prior to a heart attack. Others (often women) experience pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen, or back. Some people report dizziness, fatigue, profuse sweating, or nausea before a heart attack.

The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking emergency medical care if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting. Sometimes you may not be diagnosed with heart disease until you have a serious health event, such as a heart attack or stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic, although cardiovascular disease can sometimes be diagnosed early with regular check-ups. Heart disease is easier to treat if caught early, according to the Mayo clinic.

How is cardiovascular disease diagnosed?

Your doctor might order different tests depending on your symptoms and risk factors. The CDC lists the following as some common diagnostic tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) — a painless test that traces the electrical signals in your heart
  • Echocardiogram — an ultrasound of the heart’s motion and blood flow within it
  • Cardiac catheterization — a surgical procedure using a tiny tube inserted through the neck, arm, or groin into the heart itself that lets doctors visualize the blood flow between the heart chambers and valves to check for abnormalities
  • Coronary angiogram – a test that provides data on blood flow through the coronary arteries, with the help of dye introduced through cardiac catheterization
  • Stress test – a measurement of your heart activity when it’s working hard, such as when you walk on a treadmill
  • Chest x-ray – a scan of the heart and lungs

Does Medicare cover cardiovascular disease?

Medicare may cover various services to treat cardiovascular disease. Read more about Medicare coverage of cardiovascular disease.

If you have questions about Medicare coverage and cardiovascular disease, I’d like to help answer them. You can request an email or schedule a phone call by clicking one of the links at the bottom of the page. To view a list of plans you may qualify for in your area, click on the “Compare Plans” button below.

Sources:

Heart Disease Facts,” Centers for Disease Control, 2015

What is Heart Disease?” National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2014

What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease? National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2014

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