More than 60 million Americans suffer from diseases of the circulatory system, which include atherosclerosis, rheumatic heart disease, arrhythmia, aneurysm, and high blood pressure. Diseases that disrupt the circulatory system affect the heart and blood vessels, as well as other tissues and organs of the human body. A person of any age or race may suffer from diseases of the circulatory system, and these diseases are potentially life threatening.
One of the most common diseases of the circulatory system is atherosclerosis. This disorder occurs when fatty deposits called plaques form on the inner walls of the blood vessels. The buildup of plaque may be caused by fat, cholesterol, and calcium. Atherosclerosis causes the arteries to narrow, which in turn causes organs of the body to be deprived or even obstructed of blood flow.
Atherosclerosis leads to a variety of coronary diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes. A person with atherosclerosis will typically develop clot formations. In some cases, the narrowing of arteries in certain parts of the body, particularly in the legs, may be so severe that amputation is needed. Atherosclerosis may be treated with angioplasty.
Another common circulatory system disease is rheumatic heart disease, which mainly affects children between the ages of 5 and 15. Rheumatic heart disease occurs due to complications of an untreated strep throat infection. This disease is caused when the antibodies created to fight the infection turn against the body and actually attack the valves of the heart. This attack typically results in the valves thickening and becoming scarred. Rheumatic heart disease is generally treated with antibiotics.
Diseases of the circulatory system may also include arrhythmia, which involves an irregular heartbeat rhythm. Arrhythmias may be present at birth or may appear later in life. The irregular heartbeat may be unusually quick or slow. Treatment for an arrhythmia may include medication, surgery, or the insertion of a pacemaker.
Some circulatory system diseases, such as aneurysms, affect the aorta. When the aorta becomes damaged, it may bulge, or in severe cases, it may tear. In some cases, the aorta may even burst, which may cause death. Aneurysms are generally treated with medication to lower blood pressure and decrease the chances of a rupture.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension or the “silent killer,” is another common circulatory system disease. A person may have high blood pressure for years without being aware of it. High blood pressure typically occurs when the arteries begin to lose their flexibility. If left untreated, high blood pressure may result in strokes or heart failure. Treatment may include medications, exercise, and a healthy diet.