Heart Disease and Stroke

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease describes conditions like heart attack and stroke that negatively affect the heart and blood vessels.

  • A heart attack happens when part of the heart does not receive enough blood. This usually occurs due to a clot in a blood vessel. The affected part of the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen and becomes damaged or dies.
  • A stroke usually happens when the brain does not receive enough blood. This usually occurs due to a clot in a blood vessel. A stroke can also result when a blood vessel inside the brain bursts. Brain cells do not receive enough oxygen and become damaged or die.
  • Visit the American Heart Association website to learn about other types of cardiovascular disease.

How do I get it?

A waxy substance called plaque can build up within artery (a type of blood vessel) walls. When this happens, arteries become hardened and narrowed. This results in atherosclerosis, which makes it difficult for blood to flow and deliver oxygen throughout the body. Over time, plaque can cause a clot to form in the artery. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Individuals with certain characteristics may be at higher risk for atherosclerosis, and therefore cardiovascular disease. Major risk factors include:
  • Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Insulin resistance/diabetes
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Older age
  • Family history of early heart disease
Some of these characteristics can be controlled, while others cannot.


Heart Attack

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body discomfort (arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, upper stomach)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (especially in women)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light-headed or sudden dizziness
If you or someone you are with experiences any heart attack symptoms, dial 9-1-1 immediately.

Symptoms vary person to person. Some individuals experience few symptoms. Some experience no symptoms at all. Visit the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for more information on symptoms of a heart attack.


  • Sudden weakness, numbness, or paralysis in the face, arm or leg
  • Confusion
  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Difficulty seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sudden and severe headache 
If you or someone you are with experiences any stroke symptoms, dial 9-1-1 immediately.


Heart attack and stroke are medical emergencies. If you think that you or someone else is having a heart attack or stroke, dial 9-1-1 immediately. 



Remember Your ABCS

  • Appropriate Aspirin Therapy- Aspirin may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease in some individuals. Talk to your doctor about whether or not daily aspirin therapy may help you.
  • Blood Pressure Control- Get your blood pressure checked regularly. Control high blood pressure by eating a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and/or taking certain medications prescribed by your doctor.
  • Cholesterol Management- Get your cholesterol checked regularly. Improve unhealthy cholesterol levels through healthy eating and increasing physical activity.
  • Smoking Cessation- If you smoke, quit. For smoking cessation classes in Chester County, visit the Health Department website or contact the PA Free Quitline 24/7 at 800-784-8669.

Talk to your Health Care Professional

  • Get regular checkups to stay aware of your blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Tell your doctor if you have a family history of early heart disease.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions about medications you take.

Eat Healthy for Your Heart

  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Check nutrition labels and choose foods low in sodium (salt), saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Cook more meals at home. Find healthy recipes and more from the American Heart Association.
  • Limit alcohol. Excessive drinking may cause high blood pressure.

Get Moving

  • Get 30 minutes of physical activity several days a week.
  • Make physical activity part of your daily routine. Examples include taking the stairs, walking the dog, or going on a bike ride with your family.
Use My Life Check to learn how you are doing with heart health. You’ll also learn steps you can take to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.