Understand Your Enemy: Heart Disease and Stroke

UW Health Services
The key to understanding your enemy is knowing the facts about heart disease and stroke:
heart in handsWhat is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Most heart and blood vessel problems develop over time and occur when your arteries develop atherosclerosis - a process that begins in childhood and involves a gradual buildup inside them called plaque inside the arteries.
Plaque contains fat, cholesterol and other substances, and can grow large enough to significantly reduce blood flow through an artery. Most of the damage occurs when a plaque becomes fragile and ruptures.
Plaques that rupture can cause blood clots to form. These clots can block blood flow at the site of the rupture or can break off and travel through the artery to another part of the body. If either happens and blocks an artery that feeds the heart or brain, it causes a heart attack or stroke.
What is Stroke?
Stroke - the No. 3 killer of women - is a type of vascular disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain.
A stroke occurs when an artery that carries blood, oxygen and nutrients to the brain either bursts or is blocked by a clot. When that happens, part of the brain can't get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.
When part of the brain dies from lack of blood flow, the part of the body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause paralysis, affect language and vision, and cause other problems. Treatments can minimize the potentially devastating effects of stroke, but to receive them, a person must recognize the warning signs and act quickly.
For more information about stroke and its effects, visit the Web site of the American Stroke Association.