October 2017

Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2017, October). Cardiovascular health: Learning about and fighting against cardiovascular disease. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.


Cardiovascular Health: Learning About and Fighting Against Cardiovascular Disease


Michael Garko, Ph.D.

Nationally Syndicated Host & Producer – Let’s Talk Nutrition


Do you know what cardiovascular disease (CVD) is? Do you know whether heart disease and cardiovascular disease mean the same thing? Can you distinguish among the various types of CVD? For example, do you know the different diseases of the heart and blood vessels? Do you know the health impact of CVD compared to other degenerative diseases? Do you know whether CVD is more of a health problem for men than women?  Do you know if CVD is a public health crisis taking place primarily in developed countries such as the Untied States? Do you know whether CVD is more determined by genetics than lifestyle?


If you are unsure about the answer to any or all of these questions, then you might find this October, 2017, issue of Health & Wellness Monthly useful. In fact, reading it may help motivate you to practice good cardiovascular health and prevent you from becoming a CVD statistic. The article is devoted to defining CVD, identifying its various types and showing why anyone interested in preserving and protecting his/her health needs to learn about CVD.


Defining CVD


Contrary to the popular belief that it is a single disease, CVD in fact signifies various degenerative diseases and disorders of the cardiovascular/circulatory system, which includes the heart, arteries, capillaries and veins. The term “cardio” refers to the heart, while the term “vascular” pertains to the blood vessel system (i.e., arteries, capillaries & veins). Hence, CVD can be defined as a constellation of degenerative diseases and disorders of the heart and blood vessel system.


Types of Diseases of the Heart

Diseases of the heart collectively referred to as heart disease include but are not limited to: Coronary artery disease (obstructed heart arteries), coronary heart disease (diseased heart arteries & heart), cardiomyopathy (loss of heart muscle, enlarged or thickened heart), valvular heart disease (heart valves narrowed, leaking or closing improperly), pericardial disease (pericardium or sac encasing heart inflamed, stiff or retaining fluid), congenital heart disease (formed before birth affecting heart muscle, chambers or valves) and congestive heart failure (heart’s inability to pump sufficient amount of blood resulting in shortness of breath, fluid retention & fatigue) (see American Heart Association, 2005; Mayo Clinic, 2006).


Types of Diseases of the Blood Vessels


Diseases of the blood vessel/vascular system include but are not limited to: Ateriosclerosis and atherosclerosis (arterial walls thick & stiff), high blood pressure (excessive force of blood pushing against walls of blood vessels), stroke (interrupted blood flow to brain or ruptured blood vessels in brain), rheumatic heart disease (valves damaged by rheumatic fever), aneurysm (bulge in wall of artery or vein), peripheral arterial disease (clogged arteries to limbs), vaculitis (inflamed blood vessels), venous incompetence (blood flowing wrong way in veins), venous thrombosis (blood clots in veins), varicose veins (veins twisted & enlarged) and lymphedema (obstructed lymphatic vessels causing fluid buildup) (see American Heart Association, 2005 & Mayo Clinic, 2006).


Of the above mentioned diseases, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and rheumatic heart disease are the four most common types of CVD (American Heart Association, 2005), with coronary heart disease (CHD) being the most common type of CVD. It is important to note that CHD constitutes over 50% of all cardiovascular episodes occurring in men and women and is the single largest killer of both genders. Every 26 seconds someone will suffer a coronary event and every 60 seconds someone will die from such an event. In 2003, CHD caused one of every five deaths in the United States (see Thomas et. al, 2006).


Why It Is Important To Learn About CVD


There are at least six good reasons why as a health consumer you need to educate yourself about CVD.


Public Health Enemy #1


First, public health agencies at the local, state, national and international level (e.g., Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association & World Health Organization) consider CVD to be public health enemy number one in the United States and other developed and developing nations The prevalence-incidence statistics and morbidity-mortality statistics associated with CVD show unequivocally that it is a health epidemic that threatens Americans and citizens of other countries  (see American Heart Association, 2003; Murray & Lopez, 1997; World Health Organization, 2004).


According to the American Heart Association (2005), since 1900 CVD has been the leading cause of death in the United States every year except for 1918. Nearly 2500 Americans die from CVD every single day, with an average of one death every 35 seconds. It takes more lives each year than the next four leading causes of death combined (i.e., cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents and diabetes mellitus).


Internationally speaking, the World Health Organization (2004) reports that CVD kills an estimated 17 million people annually around the world and ranks currently as the leading cause of death world wide being responsible for one third of all deaths globally. CVD is an epidemic that has spread into developed and undeveloped nations. Seventy-five percent of all deaths attributable to CVD occur in the poorer regions of the world and this is predicted to increase. Health officials warn that by the year 2010 CVD will become the leading cause of death in the more economically prosperous developed countries, a reality that has existed in the United States since 1900 (see World Health Organization 2004). In short, CVD is a national and international epidemic that cuts a wide swath of global disability and death.


Equal Opportunity Degenerative Disease


Second, health officials caution that CVD, generally, and coronary heart disease (CHD), specifically, can no longer be considered health problems for overworked, overweight, overstressed, middle-aged, Caucasian men (see American Heart Association, 2005; World Health Organization, 2004). The hardcore health reality is that everyone is at risk, including men and women, young and old, prince and popper. Upper social class standing is not some guarantee or immunity from CVD. CVD invades all social class boundaries and implicates virtually all demographic parameters such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, occupation and income. In real health terms, CVD is a potential threat to all those who are ignorant of its propensity to kill or choose just to ignore the warnings of its lethal nature. Decades or research reveal CVD to be an equal opportunity degenerative disease.



Staggering Financial Costs


Third, the costs in treating Americans suffering from CVD are staggering. For example, according to the AHA, in 2005 CVD and stroke cost more to treat than any other disease that afflicted Americans, a cost amounting to $393.5 billion (American Heart Association, 2005). The estimated healthcare costs of CVD and stroke for 2006 is predicted to be $401.1 billion (Thomas et. al, 2005). This does not include all of the other costs associated with the other types of CVD.


Baby boomers. Public health experts predict that these healthcare costs will become even more astounding as the baby boomers continue to age and become a significant percentage of the population (see American Heart Association, 200; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). According to the Census Bureau, as of July 2005, the population of baby boomers, the generation born between 1946 and 1964, was 78.2 million.


The financial burden baby boomers are predicted to put on the healthcare system may be worse than many experts anticipate. In 2004 Roper ASW conducted a survey for the Boomer Coalition and the American Heart Association. One of the conclusions of the survey was that baby boomers were in denial about CVD. On the one hand, the findings showed that while they possessed a high awareness of CVD, baby boomers were not taking preventative measures to combat it. The survey also revealed that baby boomers were aware of CVD being a “silent killer” but 63% were overweight and obese, two major risk factors for CVD. Furthermore, almost 90% of baby boomers reported that they knew high blood pressure and high cholesterol increased the risk for heart disease and stroke. Nevertheless, the majority of survey respondents were reported being oblivious to their own blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In sum, the costs associated with treating CVD are already burdensome and will most likely become even more of a financial drain on the U.S. healthcare system in the 21st century, thereby, potentially undermining the quality of medical care for everyone in the future.


Conceptual & Terminological Confusion


Fourth, a considerable amount of conceptual and terminological confusion abounds about CVD.  Paradoxically, much of the confusion has resulted from the world wide attention given to CVD and the effort to inform the public about its health dangers, how to detect it, how to prevent it and how to treat it. Doctors, medical scientists, healthcare practitioners and public health agencies from around the globe created a vocabulary to talk about CVD.


Unfortunately, the terminology used to discuss CVD in all of its various forms has been anything but consistent. For example, heart disease is often used loosely and synonymously to mean cardiovascular disease. Making matters worse, the general public and the media have used CVD terminology in ways that make intuitive sense to them but conflicts with how the health and medical establishment use that terminology. For example, many lay people and even some in media often use heart failure to mean heart attack and heart attack to mean stroke. These terminological mix-ups have resulted in a definitional and rhetorical mess for health consumers, yet another reason to take the initiative to learn about CVD.


Knowledge Is Power


Fifth, the more knowledge health consumers have about CVD the more they will appreciate what a health threat it is, the more power they will possess to prevent it and the more motivated they will be to take preventative measures to reduce the odds of becoming a CVD morbidity or mortality statistic. Knowledge is the enemy of CVD. Ignorance and apathy are its allies.

CVD Not A Death Sentence


Notwithstanding its grim prevalence-incidence statistics and morbidity-mortality statistics, CVD does not have to be a death sentence. In fact, many types of CVD can be prevented and even reversed through proper nutrition (Campbell, 2004; Haas, 1992). Campbell (2004), a leading nutrition researcher contends that “vascular (arteries and heart) health is possible without life-threatening surgery and without potentially lethal drugs” and “can be achieved simply by eating the right food” (p. 12). He asserts further that diet can reverse advanced heart disease and “eating the right way not only prevents disease but also generates health and a sense of well-being, both physically and mentally” (Campbell, 2004, p. 23).


While I agree with Campbell about the role of nutrition in fighting against CVD, eating a healthy diet alone cannot prevent or reverse CVD. Besides avoiding eating an unhealthy diet, it takes eliminating or minimizing other risk factors such as a sedentary life style, excessive tobacco and alcohol use, overweight and obesity, out of range cholesterol and blood pressure levels and diabetes mellitus, to mention some of the more controllable risk factors. Furthermore, eating a healthy diet to prevent and reverse CVD is easy to recommend but not so easily accomplished.  Harmful farming and food manufacturing methods have depleted the earth of vital minerals and food supply of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, respectively. Therefore, maintaining and restoring a healthy cardiovascular system also requires dietary supplementation to counter the nutritional deficiencies of and deleterious ingredients of the foods grown and sold to health consumers.




Educating yourself about CVD just may save your life. CVD is preventable and in many instances reversible. CVD does not have to be a death sentence, despite it being the undisputed, uninterrupted, unyielding leading cause of death in the United States for nearly a century.


Preventing and reversing CVD requires knowledge which can then be used to initiate informed action. In that regard, one of the goals of this issue of Health and Wellness Monthly  was to contribute to the readers’ knowledge about CVD in terms of what it is and its types and to make an argument underscoring why health consumers need to learn as much as they can about CVD.


The truth be told, CVD is a formidable foe. CVD has ranked as the leading cause of death decade after decade because it is complex and obstinate. Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are stealth-like, which is what makes them so deadly. They silently destroy the health of a person one day at a time, one risk-laden behavior at a time over a long period of time. Too often unsuspecting targets do not know they have been under attack until they experience a heart attack or stroke and either die or become disabled.


CVD cannot be defeated just by good intentions. Rather, counteracting CVD requires knowledge and living a healthy lifestyle that consistently includes, among numerous other factors, healthy nutrition, dietary supplementation and regular exercise. The reader is encouraged to acquire the knowledge and take the necessary action to preserve and protect his/her health from CVD.




American Heart Association. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2005 Update.

Dallas, Texas: American Heart Association, 2005.


American Heart Association. Heart and Stroke Statistics – 2003 Update. Dallas, Texas: American Heart Association, 2003.


Campbell, T. Colin. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss

And Long-Term Health. Dallas, Texas: Benbella Books, 2005.


“Cardiovascular Disease 101: Know Your Heart and Blood Vessels.” Mayo

Clinic.com Online. Internet. 4 April 2006.


Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy With Nutrition: The Complete Guide To Diet and

Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts, 1992.


Thomas, T., Haase, N., Rosamond, W., Howard, V., Rumsfeld, J., Manolio, T., et. al. “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2006 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Subcommittee.” Circulation 113 (2006): 85-151.


Murray CJL, Lopez A. “Alternative Projections of Mortality and Disability by Cause 1990-2020: Global Burden of Disease.” Lancet 349 (1997): 1498-1504.


World Health Organization. Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke. Eds. Mackay, Judith and Mensah, George. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2004.


Suggested Citation: Garko, M.G. (2017, October). Cardiovascular health: Learning about and fighting against cardiovascular disease. Health and Wellness Monthly. Retrieved (insert month, day, year), from www.letstalknutrition.com.