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Cardiovascular diseases comprise the most prevalent serious disorders in industrialized nations and are a rapidly growing problem in developing nations (Chap. 2). Age-adjusted death rates for coronary heart disease have declined by two-thirds in the last four decades in the United States, reflecting the identification and reduction of risk factors as well as improved treatments and interventions for the management of coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and heart failure. Nonetheless, cardiovascular diseases remain the most common causes of death, responsible for 35% of all deaths, almost 1 million deaths each year. Approximately one-fourth of these deaths are sudden. In addition, cardiovascular diseases are highly prevalent, diagnosed in 80 million adults, or ∼35% of the adult population. The growing prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and metabolic syndrome (Chap. 32), which are important risk factors for atherosclerosis, now threatens to reverse the progress that has been made in the age-adjusted reduction in the mortality rate of coronary heart disease.

For many years cardiovascular disease was considered to be more common in men than in women. In fact, the percentage of all deaths secondary to cardiovascular disease is higher among women (43%) than among men (37%). In addition, although the absolute number of deaths secondary to cardiovascular disease has declined over the past decades in men, this number has actually risen in women. Inflammation, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and the metabolic syndrome appear to play more prominent roles in the development of coronary atherosclerosis in women than in men. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is more frequently associated with dysfunction of the coronary microcirculation in women than in men. Exercise electrocardiography has a lower diagnostic accuracy in the prediction of epicardial obstruction in women than in men.


The symptoms caused by heart disease result most commonly from myocardial ischemia, disturbance of the contraction and/or relaxation of the myocardium, obstruction to blood flow, or an abnormal cardiac rhythm or rate. Ischemia, which is caused by an imbalance between the heart's oxygen supply and demand, is manifest most frequently as chest discomfort (Chap. 4), whereas reduction of the pumping ability of the heart commonly leads to fatigue and elevated intravascular pressure upstream of the failing ventricle. The latter results in abnormal fluid accumulation, with peripheral edema (Chap. 7) or pulmonary congestion and dyspnea (Chap. 5). Obstruction to blood flow, as occurs in valvular stenosis, can cause symptoms resembling those of myocardial failure (Chap. 17). Cardiac arrhythmias often develop suddenly, and the resulting symptoms and signs—palpitations (Chap. 8), dyspnea, hypotension, and syncope—generally occur abruptly and may disappear as rapidly as they develop.

Although dyspnea, chest discomfort, edema, and syncope are cardinal manifestations of cardiac disease, they occur in other conditions as well. Thus, dyspnea is observed in disorders as diverse as pulmonary disease, marked ...

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