Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Cardiovascular Disease: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Oct 15;74(8):1342.

  See related article on cardiovascular disease.

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is when there are changes in your blood vessels. These changes are caused by age and unhealthy habits, like smoking. They also can run in families. Having CVD makes you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. In the United States, more than 10 times as many women die from CVD as from breast cancer.

How can I tell if I have CVD?

You may not notice that you have CVD. You are more likely to have it if you:

  • smoke,

  • are obese,

  • are older,

  • have high blood pressure,

  • have diabetes,

  • have high cholesterol, or

  • have a relative with CVD.

Ask your doctor if you are at risk for heart disease and stroke.

What can I do to prevent CVD?

  • Stop smoking.

  • Exercise regularly. For example, walk, jog, or swim for 30 minutes every day.

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.

  • Keep at a healthy body weight. Ask your doctor what your body mass index (or BMI) is. Try to keep your BMI below 25 kg per m2.

  • Take all your medicines and follow your doctor’s directions, especially if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Heart Association

Web site:

Telephone: 1-800-AHA-USA-1 (1-800-242-8721)

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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