What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a massive public health burden, accounting for over 30% of global mortality. CVD is a general term that describes a disease of the heart or blood vessels. The two most common types of CVD include coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke, both of which are caused by atherosclerosis.
All blood cycles through the heart via blood vessels in order to replenish the amount of oxygen it carries to the rest of the body. Atherosclerosis is the gradual narrowing of blood vessels due to a build up of plaque (fatty deposits). Overtime, these deposits can restrict the entire vessel restricting the supply of blood to areas of the body. When oxygen-rich blood does not reach parts of the body, serious complications can occur.
Coronary heart disease is when the coronary arteries, the two major blood vessels that supply the heart, are restricted or blocked. Restricted blood flow can cause chest pain, a condition commonly called angina; while blocked blood flow can cause a heart attack (myocardial infarction).
A stroke is when the blood supply to the brain is cut off. When blood flow is restricted to the brain, brain cells quickly begin to die causing brain damage and possible death.
Both heart attack and stroke are medical emergencies because the sooner a patient receives treatment, the less permanent damage is likely to occur.
Risk factors of cardiovascular disease
Risk factors increase the likelihood of developing a disease. While family history and ethnic background may be associated factors to CVD, the major risk factors contributing to CVD are hugely lifestyle-related including:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar (diabetes)
- High cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Being sedentary (physically inactive)
- Alcohol consumption
Blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body weight can be easily measured and monitored. Being aware of these factors and reduce the risk of a serious complication.
The common signs of heart disease include chest pain (angina), tightness in the chest, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, pain or numbness in other parts of the body and nausea. Heart attacks can sometimes occur without any symptoms, called a silent heart attack. This is more common among people with diabetes.
The common signs of stroke can include the face dropping on one side, unable to lift both arms and slurred or incapacitated speech. This requires immediate medical attention.