Cardiovascular diseases include all diseases that affect the heart and the circulatory system of the body, including coronary heart disease, stroke, valvular heart disease, heart failure and cardiomypoathy. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, with more deaths recorded for cardiovascular diseases than any other disease. It affects both men and women of all races and ethnic groups.
Many heart diseases are caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the process by which plaques build up in the walls of blood vessels. This process causes narrowing and hardening of blood vessels. This leads to increase in force of contraction of the heart in order to overcome this resistance and meet the metabolic demands of the body. This leads to hypertensive heart disease. In addition, atherosclerosis can cause the formation of blood clots inside the blood vessels. These clots can lodge in certain areas of the body, causing either a heart attack or a stroke [cerebrovascular disease].
A heart attack is caused by ischemia to a portion of the heart caused by drastic reduction to the blood flow in the area by the coronary arteries supplying the particular region. A stroke, on the other hand, occurs due to blockage of arteries that supply specific regions in the brain. This causes the brain cells in that region to die. Other types of cardiovascular disease include heart failure. It is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the metabolic demands of the body, or doing so at a higher pressure. This is a progressive process once it starts and it leads to permanent changes in the structure of the heart. Abnormality in the rhythm of the heart, called arrhythmia, is another type of cardiovascular disease. The heart can be beating either too fast or too slow. In both cases, function of the heart is compromised by its inability to effectively pump blood through the vessels to meet all the metabolic needs of the body. The heart is a pump that contains valves. Abnormalities can also arise in any of the heart valves. The valve can be stenosis, in which it does not open enough to allow blood to flow through it properly. The valve can also be incompetent in which it causes back flow of blood- this is called regurgitation.
The major symptoms of cardiovascular disease depend on the portion of the heart that is diseased. Hypertension is a cardiovascular disease that does not present with specific symptoms for a long period. The individual may complain of non-specific symptoms like insomnia, headache and blurring of vision. When the left side of the heart is diseased however, symptoms like keg swelling, abdominal pain and tenderness, tiredness on exertion are complained of. When it is the right side of the heart, the patient may also complain of tiredness on exertion, difficulty with breathing, chest pain, cough that is productive of frothy whitish sputum.
Investigations to confirm the etiology of the cardiovascular disease include a chest radiograph. It shows the size of the heart in relation to the chest wall. An electrocardiogram of the heart also shows electrical abnormalities in the heart. It can be used to diagnose arrhythmias. Echocardiography of the heart shows structural abnormalities of the heart and the estimates the ejection fraction. Treatment of cardiovascular diseases depends on the etiology. For arrhythmias, anti arrhythmic agents are used. Antihypertensive agents are used to treat hypertension.
Prevention of cardiovascular disease includes lifestyle modification. Eating a low fat and high fiber diet, fruits and vegetables. Cessation of smoking and limiting the consumption of alcohol. Weight reduction for the obese, regular exercising and reduction of emotional stress are some of the way of preventing cardiovascular diseases.
American Heart Association (2011). What is cardiovascular disease (Heart Disease)?. American Heart Association.
British Heart Association (2012). Cardiovascular disease. British Heart Association.
WHO (2012). Global Atlas on cardiovascular disease prevention and control. World Health Organization.