Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Disease

What Is Atherosclerosis?

It's often described as a hardening of the arteries. It happens when their normal lining gets damaged, which leads to a buildup of fat deposits and plaque. The artery walls may thicken and narrow, and that could lead to a blockage.

Atherosclerosis is a type of heart disease in which the arteries that supply blood to your heart become severely narrowed. That can cause the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your ticker to decrease, especially when the demand for oxygen goes up, such as during exercise.

Extra strain on the heart may bring on chest pain (angina) and other symptoms.

What's the Link Between Smoking and Heart Disease?

It's a major cause of atherosclerosis. The nicotine in smoke causes:

  • Decrease in oxygen to your heart
  • Rise in your blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increase in blood clotting
  • Damage to cells that line arteries and other blood vessels, which triggers atherosclerosis and heart disease
  • Decreases HDL, the "good" cholesterol, which protects the lining of the arteries.

What Raises Your Risk for Heart Disease?

There are some things that raise your chance of getting heart disease that you can't control, such as if you are a man, a woman who is past menopause, if you're older, or if you have a family history of heart attack or heart disease. Other diseases, such as inflammatory or autoimmune diseases, as well as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, can also increase your risk of heart disease.

There are other heart disease risks that you can do something about, either by changing your habits or getting treatment. These include:

What Should I Do If I'm at Risk for Heart Disease?

There are many steps you can take. If the artery-clogging process has already started, you can slow its rate if you improve your diet, exercise, quit smoking, and cut down on stress.

What Changes in My Diet Can Help Lower My Heart Disease Risk?

A heart-healthy diet can help lower your levels of total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol. It can also cut your blood pressure, reduce blood sugar levels, and help you drop some pounds if you're overweight.

Try these tips:

  • Eat more veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.
  • Limit fat in your diet. Only use fats high in mono- and polyunsaturates.
  • Eat lean sources of protein, such as chicken, fish, and soy. Avoid red meat, as this tends to be high in fat and cholesterol.
  • Incorporate omega-3's in the diet, such as 2 servings of fatty fish per week, flax seed, olive oil, nuts and avocado.
  • Limit how much cholesterol you get.
  • Eat whole-grain bread, rice, pasta, and other complex carbohydrates. Cut back on simple carbohydrates such as regular soda, sugar, and sweets.
  • Eat small but frequent meals throughout the day. For example, try five to six mini-meals instead of three big ones.
  • Use less salt.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Drink 32 to 64 ounces of water every day, unless your doctor tells you not to.

What Is Cholesterol?

It's a soft, waxy material that's made in the liver of animals. Foods such as egg yolks, milk fat, organ meats, and shellfish have cholesterol too.

In many people, high blood cholesterol levels are caused by eating foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar, and calories. You can lower your cholesterol if you cut back on these items.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Suzanne R. Steinbaum, MD on July 06, 2019



American Heart Association.

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