What is cardiovascular disease?
The cardiovascular or circulatory system supplies the body with blood. It consists of the heart, arteries, veins, and capillaries.
There are several types of cardiovascular disease, but treatment, symptoms, and prevention often overlap.
One of the most common symptoms of cardiovascular disease is chest pain, which may indicate angina.
Treatment will depend on the type of condition the person has.
- lifestyle adaptations, such as weight control, exercise, quitting smoking, and dietary changes
- medication, for example, to reduce LDL cholesterol
- surgery, such as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)
- cardiac rehabilitation, including exercise and counseling
Treatment aims to:
- relieve symptoms
- reduce the risk of the condition recurring or worsening
- prevent complications
Depending on the condition, it may also aim to stabilize heart rhythms, reduce blockages, and widen the arteries to enable a better flow of blood.
There are many different types of cardiovascular disease. Symptoms will vary, depending on the specific type of disease a patient has.
However, typical symptoms of an underlying cardiovascular issue include:
- pains or pressure in the chest, which may indicate angina
- pain or discomfort in the arms, the left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back
- shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea
- nausea and fatigue
- light-headed or faint
- cold sweat
Overall, symptoms vary and are specific to the condition and the individual, but these are most common.
Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reported in JAMA that the lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease is more than 50 percent for both men and women. They added that even among those with few or no cardiovascular risk factors, the risk is still more than 30 percent.
Risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease include:
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- radiation therapy
- lack of sleep
- high blood cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)
- diets that are high in fat combined with carbohydrates
- physical inactivity
- drinking too much alcohol
- air pollution
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and reduced lung function
People with one cardiovascular risk factor often have one or two others, too. For example, people with obesity often have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes type 2.
The most common risk factors for cardiovascular disease appear to be atherosclerosis and hypertension.
Important causes of cardiovascular disease include atherosclerosis, when fatty deposits accumulate in the arteries.
Damage to the circulatory system can also result from diabetes and as the result of other health conditions, such as a virus, an infection, or a structural problem that the person was born with.
It often involves high blood pressure, but this can be both a cause and a result of cardiovascular disease.
Cardiac, or heart-related, diseases and conditions include:
- angina, considered both a cardiac and vascular disease
- arrhythmia, where there is an irregular heartbeat or heart rhythm
- congenital heart disease, when a problem with heart function or structure is present from birth
- coronary artery disease (CAD), which affects the arteries that feed the heart muscle
- dilated cardiomyopathy
- heart attack
- heart failure, when the heart does not work properly
- hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- mitral regurgitation
- mitral valve prolapse
- pulmonary stenosis
- rheumatic heart disease, which can be a complication of strep throat
Vascular diseases are diseases that affect the blood vessels: the arteries, veins, or capillaries.
- peripheral artery (arterial) disease
- renal artery disease
- Raynaud's disease (Raynaud's phenomenon)
- Buerger's disease
- peripheral venous disease
- stroke, a type of cerebrovascular disease
- venous blood clots
- blood clotting disorders
Smoking is a significant risk factor for CVDs. Quitting can help reduce the risk of many other conditions.
The majority of CVDs are preventable. It is important to address risk factors by:
- consuming less alcohol and tobacco
- eating fresh fruit and vegetables
- reducing salt intake
- avoiding sedentary lifestyles, particularly among children
Bad habits during childhood will not lead to cardiovascular disease while the individual is still young; but they can lead to the accumulation of problems that continue into adulthood, resulting in a greater probability of having a cardiovascular disease later in life.
Children who eat a lot of salt have a much higher risk of hypertension when they are adults, as well as heart disease and stroke. Parents should also keep a close eye on how much saturated fat and sugar a child consumes.
Does aspirin protect from cardiovascular disease?
In the past, many people have taken an aspirin a day as a routine measure to protect against cardiovascular disease, but current guidelines no longer recommend this for most people, because it can lead to bleeding.
A doctor may suggest using aspirin if a person has a high risk of a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, and a low risk of bleeding.
Anyone who is taking a daily dose of aspirin to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease should ask their doctor whether or not they should continue.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of deaths globally. More people die from these diseases than from anything else.
In 2015, approximately 17.7 million people died from cardiovascular disease worldwide, and they accounted for 31 percent of all registered premature deaths.
- 7.4 million people died from coronary heart disease
- 6.7 million people died as a result of a stroke
Over 75 percent of deaths from cardiovascular disease occur in low and middle-income countries. They affect men and women equally.
By 2030, it is predicted that 23.6 million people will die from cardiovascular diseases annually, mostly due to stroke and heart disease.
For women in the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death. In 2013, there were 289,758 fatalities in women due to cardiovascular disease. One in every four female deaths were from heart disease.