Heart Disease An Overview

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a pretty broad term which can encompass a few different conditions. The most common form of heart disease is Coronary Artery disease (CAD). CAD is diagnosed by having a plaque build up in the arteries near the heart. This plaque is made up of cholesterol and with enough plaque build up there can be a total blockage of the artery, which causes less blood flow to the heart and in turn a heart attack.

Other Types of Heart conditions​

In addition to CAD, there are fourteen other conditions that fall under heart disease. The other conditions that fall under the heart disease umbrella are:

  • Acute Coronary Syndrome
  • Angina
  • Aortic aneurysm
  • Arrhythmia
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital Heart Defect
  • Heart Failure
  • Marfan Syndrome
  • Peripheral Arterial Disease
  • Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease
  • Valvular Heart Disease

In addition to coronary artery disease, the other two conditions that have nutritional implications are Atherosclerosis and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD). With PAD, instead of being blocked near the heart, there would be a blockage in the arteries that supply blood to the arms and legs. Both types of blockages whether it is near the heart or whether it is near the arms and legs are called atherosclerosis.

In this article, we will focus on Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), which encompass atherosclerosis, since there are nutritional interventions that would help with these conditions.

Risk Factors

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US with one in four deaths being attributed to this. Now that is eye opening and should be a wake up call. Some key risk factors of developing CAD or PAD would be smoking, having high blood pressure and having high cholesterol. Having other factors such as type two diabetes, being overweight or obese, a poor diet, physical inactivity, a family history of heart disease and high consumption of alcohol can all increase the risk of developing heart disease as well. The good news is, a lot of these are manageable through diet and other lifestyle changes, so reducing the risk of developing heart disease should be attainable

Should I see a registered dietitian or a nutritionist to help me manage heart disease?

A registered dietitian would be the best resource for dietary changes involved with heart disease. Dietitians receive four years of college education, at least a year long internship, and they sit for a board exam to receive their credentials to talk about nutrition to those that have or don’t have medical conditions. Nutritionists are not dietitians, but a dietitian can be a nutritionist. Nutritionists don’t have any qualifications or schooling requirements that have to be met. Highlighting this is important to be able receive the best care possible, especially when it comes to chronic diseases.

How will a Registered Dietitian help me?

Some things a dietitian would take a look at when heart disease is involved would be fat composition of the diet, meaning how much saturated versus unsaturated fat is consumed, if there is any trans fat being consumed and how much fiber is consumed daily. We want to limit our intake of saturated and trans fats as these can increase inflammation and cholesterol in the body. Whereas increasing unsaturated fat consumption can help with reducing inflammation and improving blood lipid profiles. Fiber is a carbohydrate, which sounds odd that it could impact our blood cholesterol levels, but what it does is help mobilize cholesterol out of the body therefore lowering our blood cholesterol levels. Lowering cholesterol levels is what we are looking for in heart disease. A few other items a dietitian would take a look at pertaining to heart disease would be water consumption, sodium intake, overall diet, and alcohol consumption. In addition, while it is not in a dietitian’s scope of practice, a dietitian could help set goals around quitting smoking and getting physically active. 

Heart disease can encompass many conditions, but CAD and PAD both come about when cholesterol build up in the arteries becomes too much, or atherosclerosis, which could cause a heart attack. There are a handful of risk factors, but smoking, high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are among the ones to keep an eye out for. Registered dietitians can help with decreasing the risk or help after diagnosis of heart disease by taking a look at the diet, among other things, to help change components that would reduce the above mentioned risk factors.  

By Becky Becky Rinehart, Registered Dietitian
Becky Rinehart is a Registered Dietitian in the state of Texas.