Cardiovascular Disease

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Also known as heart disease, cardiovascular disease is a serious condition that can threaten your life if not properly controlled. There are a few different health problems that work together to create a single disease, and most of them are caused by the build of plaque in the arteries.

This condition is called atherosclerosis. There are many risk factors that increase your chances of developing atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Risk factors include

  • A poor diet that is high in saturated fats, trans fats, and sugar
  • A lack of exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Diabetes and other diseases that cause insulin resistance
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure

What are the Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease?

Paying attention to the early signs of heart disease allows you to seek treatment during the time when medications and lifestyle changes are most likely to work.

These earliest signs include short periods of chest pain, trouble catching your breath, numbness in your extremities accompanied by pain, and pain in the upper torso, neck and jaw. Irregular heartbeats can also be linked to heart disease.

Cardiovascular Disease Causes

Cardiovascular disease can be caused by a wide range of factors, but the most common are lifestyle factors.

Tobacco smoke can contribute to heart disease, and both active smokers and those who are regularly surrounded by secondhand smoke are at an increased risk. High blood pressure, which is often caused by smoking, poor diet and infrequent exercise, is also a contributing factor, as is high cholesterol.

People who are obese or overweight are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Diabetes is also known to contribute to it. This is because it causes high amounts of sugar in the blood which begins to damage the heart.

In some instances, coronary heart disease occurs in women after menopause due to lowered estrogen levels throughout the body. It’s also possible to develop cardiovascular disease as a result of stress, and it is thought that this is due to a sudden release of stress hormones throughout the body. Emotionally traumatic events, such as the breakdown of a relationship or loss of a loved one can trigger this release of stress hormones, which is why it is often known as “broken heart syndrome”.

How is Cardiovascular Disease Treated?

For patients with the earliest stages of heart disease, adjusting their diet, exercising more, and taking medication for blood pressure control is often enough to stop the advancement of the disease.

The blockages of the heart’s arteries can lead to heart attacks if you don’t catch the disease early, so you’ll need secondary treatments like anti-coagulants and cardiac rehabilitation if that happens. Surgeries to bypass damaged arteries, clear clots and blockages, or install stents to hold open the blood vessels can all prevent serious damage to the heart. Statins are a cholesterol lowering class of drugs many heart disease patients take to prevent future plaque formation as well.

Cardiovascular Disease Prevention

Adopting a healthier lifestyle may help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. For one, it’s important to stop smoking. Those who don’t smoke should also try to avoid smokey environments wherever possible. People who are overweight or obese should try to lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI.

Eating a balanced diet will help with weight loss or maintenance, but it will also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat, salt and sugar should be avoided. Moderate amounts of unsaturated fat should be consumed alongside plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation.

Exercise is also important for reducing the risk of heart disease. Three 30-minute sessions of moderate activity every week is enough to maintain a healthy heart. For those who currently live a very sedentary lifestyle, it’s important to gradually build up to this level of exercise over several weeks or months.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
March 30, 2018