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Cardiovascular Diseases – What exactly are they?

Summary

  • Some Key Facts
  • What are Cardiovascular diseases?
  • What causes Cardiovascular diseases?
  • What is Atherosclerosis?
  • What causes Atherosclerosis?
  • What does Atherosclerosis cause?
  • Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke

Some Key Facts

  • Cardiovascular disease are the number one cause of death worldwide
  • 31% of total global deaths (approximately 17.5 million) in 2012 died due to a cardiovascular disease. Of these deaths, 7.4 million died due to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and 6.7 million due to Stroke
  • More than three quarters of deaths from Cardiovascular diseases take place in low and middle income countries

Source: WHO

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What are Cardiovascular Diseases?

An image of the heart and blood vessels.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) is a collective term for diseases that affect the heart and the blood vessels. Today they’re the number one cause of death worldwide.

Some common CVDs include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
  • Stroke
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease
  • Peripheral Artery Disease
  • Congenital Heart Disease
  • Heart Failure

Of this, Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke cause the most deaths. Hypertension is also common and we’ve discussed it in detail here.

The major cause of cardiovascular diseases include tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity.

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What causes cardiovascular diseases?

The main cause of cardiovascular diseases is the deposition of fatty deposits on the walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or brain with blood. The build-up of fatty deposits in the walls of blood vessels, that is the arteries, is called atherosclerosis.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is sometimes referred to as the “hardening of arteries”. What this means basically is that the walls of the arteries become lined with fatty deposits including cholesterol and other lipids and calcium. When these deposits grow they become connected with fibrous tissue forming plaque. This plaque thickens and hardens the arteries causing them to lose their elasticity and narrow on the inside. As a result blood flow to body organs and tissues is decreased including to vital organs like the heart and brain.

What causes Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is usually caused by having high amounts of the bad cholesterol in the blood. We’ve discussed this and more in depth in our article on Cholesterol here. The risk of atherosclerosis is also increased by hypertension, tobacco use, diabetes and obesity.

What does Atherosclerosis cause?

Depending on the blood vessel affected by the Atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular disease can develop in one of the organs where the blood flow has been affected. The two most affected organs include the heart and the brain of which the resultant diseases are Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and Stroke respectively.

Coronary Heart Disease & Stroke

Coronary heart disease is the most prevalent form of cardiovascular diseases. It’s caused by the Atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries which supply the heart muscles with blood. When the atherosclerosis becomes too severe it limits blood flow depriving the heart muscles of oxygen leading to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).  This may cause a heart attack which occurs when blood supply to a section of the heart muscle is cut off causing that muscle to be damaged.

Stroke, the second most common type of cardiovascular disease, occurs when one or more parts of the brain is deprived of oxygen due to blocking or rupturing of a blood vessel. This blocking is usually caused by a blood clot which develops due to atherosclerosis of arteries that supply the brain tissue with blood.

Next: Cardiovascular Diseases | Protecting Your Heart and Arteries

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Nutrition Point is a now defunct blog that was co-authored and maintained by the editor of this site from 2016 to 2022.

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