Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the collective name for conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. It is a leading cause of death in the US. It is caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries of the heart, as well as arteries delivering blood and oxygen to the brain, kidneys, and eyes. Plaque build-up puts these vessels at increased risk of obstruction within these vessels and clots within the blood.
There are four main types of CVD, let's talk you through them.
Coronary heart disease is where blood flow to the heart muscle is disrupted or blocked, thereby reducing the amount of oxygen to this area. This can lead to conditions like angina, heart attacks, and heart failure.
Aortic disease: the aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and is responsible for carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Damage occurs when the walls of this vessel weaken and bulges occur. These bulges can cause a small or major tear, ultimately leading to a catastrophic bleed.
In a stroke, the blood supply to the brain is permanently disrupted, leading to damage or death of the brain's cells. A transient ischemic attack, commonly known as a TIA, is caused by similar damage to arteries leading to the brain. Still, the blockage is temporary, and therefore symptoms get better within 24 hours – it acts as a warning shot that someone is at risk of a stroke and should be treated.
Peripheral arterial disease occurs with a blockage in the arteries of the limbs, mainly the legs. This can cause symptoms like leg cramps when walking, which improves with rest, as well as on/off numbness and weakness.
Many things put you at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
There are certain risk factors that you can’t change, including:
There are risk factors that you can control and change, including:
You should schedule yearly visits with your doctor, where they will screen for many risk factors for important diseases, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and monitor your weight.
If you are found to have any risk factors, you will be invited for regular reviews of risk factors you can work on to reduce the chance of worsening CVD.
There are a number of things you can do yourself to stay in the best of heart health, such as eating a healthy balanced diet and exercising regularly. This helps to maintain a healthy weight and reduce your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as reduce your risk of developing diabetes or improve these conditions if you have been diagnosed.
It is very important, if you smoke, to stop smoking as soon as possible. It is also important to reduce the amount of alcohol that you drink, keeping it to less than 14 units a week.
If you have multiple risk factors, your doctor may consider starting you on medications before a significant disease develops. For example, statins help to lower your blood cholesterol levels, aspirin to thin the blood, tablets to reduce blood pressure, or tablets for diabetes if you have been diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes.
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