Heart Health

Learn the Facts About Your Heart Health

Learn more about heart disease and its risk factors. It’s important for everyone to know the facts about heart disease. According to the CDC, Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The good news is that 80% of cardiac events can be prevented through proper prevention, treatment and management.

What is Heart Disease?

Cardiovascular disease can refer to a number of conditions including:

Heart Disease

Heart disease includes numerous problems, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can block the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. If this clot cuts off the blood flow completely, the part of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.

Most people survive their first heart attack and return to their normal lives, enjoying many more years of productive activity. But experiencing a heart attack does mean that you need to make some changes.

The medications and lifestyle changes that your doctor recommends may vary according to how badly your heart was damaged, and to what degree of heart disease caused the heart attack.

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Heart Failure

Heart failure means the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. Heart failure does not mean that the heart stops beating. Instead, the heart keeps working, but the body’s need for blood and oxygen isn’t being met.

Heart failure can get worse if left untreated. It is a serious condition, and usually there’s no cure. But many people with heart failure lead a full, enjoyable life when the condition is managed with heart failure medications and healthy lifestyle changes.

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Arrhythmia refers to an abnormal heart rhythm. There are various types of arrhythmias. The heart can beat too slow, too fast or irregularly.  An arrhythmia can affect how well your heart works. With an irregular heartbeat, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

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Heart valve problems

When heart valves don’t open enough to allow the blood to flow through as it should, a condition called stenosis results. When the heart valves don’t close properly and thus allow blood to leak through, it’s called regurgitation. If the valve leaflets bulge or prolapse back into the upper chamber, it’s a condition called prolapse.

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What health conditions and behaviors increase the risk of heart disease?

Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease. Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a medical condition that happens when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. The high pressure, if not controlled, can affect your heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease.

You can lower your blood pressure with lifestyle changes or with medicine to reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack.

Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body’s needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat.

If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys and other parts of the body.


Diabetes causes sugar to build up in the blood. The risk of death from heart disease for adults with diabetes is higher than for adults who do not have diabetes. Talk with your doctor about ways to prevent or manage diabetes and control other risk factors.

Tobacco Use

Tobacco use increases the risk for heart disease and heart attack. Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels, which increases your risk for heart conditions such as atherosclerosis and heart attack. Nicotine raises blood pressure and carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen that your blood can carry. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk for heart disease, even for nonsmokers.

Diet and Exercise

A healthy lifestyle is the foundation for heart health. You can make healthy choices such as:

  • Eating a diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products;
  • Getting regular physical activity;
  • Finding healthy ways to cope with stress, like physical activity, hobbies, or meditation;
  • Getting regular check-ups to keep an eye on your risk factors; and
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, follow your treatment plan. Make the lifestyle changes your doctor recommends and stay on your medicines.

Women’s Heart Health

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year.

Women have many of the same risk factors for heart disease as men, such as age, family history, smoking, and conditions like high cholesterol and blood pressure, or diabetes. You might be at a higher risk for heart disease if you:

  • Started your period at a young age (younger than 10);
  • Had pregnancy-related conditions like gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or preeclampsia;
  • Went through menopause at an early age (younger than 44);
  • Are post-menopausal; or
  • Have medical conditions like lupus, chronic kidney disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Women can have classic symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and arm pain during a heart attack, but many women can also have milder symptoms including:

  • Pressure or pain in your chest that comes and goes
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Pain in your jaw, arm or back
  • Fatigue

Women are often busy caring for others, but it’s important to take care of yourself, as well. An annual checkup with your primary care doctor gives you a chance to get important facts about your health, to talk about any symptoms you feel, and to ask your doctor what you can do to manage your risks.

Explore these resources from the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement:


The Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation (WISEWOMAN) Project provides cardiovascular disease screening, intervention, counseling and referral services to women enrolled in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control ProgramWISEWOMAN’s mission is to provide low-income, underinsured, or uninsured 40–64-year-old women with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to improve their diet, physical activity and other life habits to prevent, delay or control cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

WISEWOMAN services are offered in conjunction with NC BCCCP services at approximately 40 local health departments and community health centers across the state.

Who is eligible for WISEWOMAN?

Women who are enrolled in NC BCCCP and reside in counties that have a participating WISEWOMAN provider are also eligible for WISEWOMAN services. 

What services are offered? 

  • Heart disease risk factor testing
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Blood sugar
  • Height and weight (BMI)
  • Lifestyle intervention (classes, counseling, activities)
  • Referrals to health care providers and sources of low-cost medications

For more information on WISEWOMAN contact:

Elizabeth Spender-Smith