Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for any disease that harms the heart or blood vessels. There are numerous cardiovascular disease symptoms. Blood clots and fatty buildup in the arteries are common symptoms seen in these diseases. It is so common; it causes a third of all deaths worldwide each year. It is also the number one cause of death in the United States.
There are numerous causes for cardiovascular disease¹:
GeneticsSmokingDrinkingDiabetesLack of exerciseBad dietObesityHigh cholesterolHigh blood pressure
Different symptoms for each disease make up the cardiovascular disease umbrella.
Common symptoms include shortness of breath, chest discomfort (known as angina), pain and numbness in arms or legs, or pain in the body (specifically the upper half and back). An irregular heartbeat, fainting and fatigue are also symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
There are two early signs of cardiovascular disease:
Hypertension: a condition where blood pressure is always high. There are almost always no symptoms, so it is hard to catch. Hypertension leads to cardiovascular disease because it damages the arteries, decreasing oxygen and blood flow to the heart. Atherosclerosis: a condition where plaque, which is made from fats, white blood cells, and cholesterol, builds up inside the arteries over the years and, in turn, makes them stiff. As the plaque grows, it becomes harder for blood to travel through the arteries and lead to blood clots. In turn, these blood clots will lead to cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks or strokes.
There are a few reasons why atherosclerosis can occur:
Smoking High cholesterol Diabetes Hypertension Ageing
Figure 2 shows how plaque will build up in the arteries and restrict the necessary flow of blood through the heart. This blood restriction can lead to atherosclerosis (previously mentioned above).
Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse plaque buildup completely, but statins can help with the risk of atherosclerosis. Statins are LDL cholesterol-lowering drugs and have been seen slightly decreasing plaque buildups if taken.
Obesity causes cardiovascular disease in a few different ways. It increases the amount of "bad" cholesterol (explained below) in the body. It causes high blood pressure due to the body requiring more blood and pressure in order to transfer oxygen and nutrients. Obesity can also increase the risk of diabetes, which can lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid; lipids are a type of molecule made up of hydrocarbons and used by organisms for various purposes. Cholesterol can be found in all the cells within an animal's body, and it helps with tasks such as producing hormones and vitamin D. The body needs cholesterol, but too much can be unhealthy and make someone sick. Cholesterol is classified into two different types:
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is also known as "bad" cholesterol. This is most of the cholesterol found in your body, and having too much of it can raise the chances of stroke or a heart attack.
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is also known as "good" cholesterol. It helps by absorbing the bad cholesterol and delivering it to the liver, then removing it from the body. Maintaining a higher level of good cholesterol will reduce the chance of cardiovascular diseases.
Cholesterol is mostly found in animal-based foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy.
Fatty acids are found in the fats of both foods and organisms. When we eat foods that contain fats, our body breaks them down into fatty acids, and then they get absorbed into the bloodstream and can, later on, be used for things such as energy. There are two types of fatty acids known as saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.
Saturated fatty acids are comprised of single carbon bonds. It is called saturated because there is always the maximum number of hydrogen atoms bonded to each carbon. Saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature, and an example of this is butter.
Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one double carbon bond. Unsaturated means that there are always fewer than the maximum number of hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon. They are typically liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats can be found in nuts and plant oils (like olive or canola).
One of the reasons unsaturated fats are considered better than saturated fats is because it is believed to reduce inflammation. Unsaturated fats also lower "bad cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Although diabetes is not the only thing that can cause cardiovascular disease, it can lead to a higher risk. High blood sugar from diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves of the heart, leading to cardiovascular disease. People with diabetes are also more likely to have other issues such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, which can help increase the possibility of cardiovascular disease. Diabetes also increases the possibility of heart failure, which leads to the heart struggling to pump blood properly, swelling in the legs, and fluid buildup in the lungs.
People with diabetes can still lower their cardiovascular disease risk by managing their cholesterol and blood pressure.
Although the course of treatment will depend on the type of cardiovascular disease, there are various treatment options. Lifestyle choices such as a change of diet, daily exercise, and quitting smoking or drinking helps manage your health. Other treatment options include medication, surgery or other medical procedures.
1. NHS, Cardiovascular disease, 2021
Cardiovascular Disease - Key takeaways Cardiovascular disease is any disease that attacks the heart or blood vessels, and it is very common. Plaque commonly builds up in the arteries and can cause clots which then cause strokes or heart attacks. People can be more at risk due to lifestyle choices, genetics, or other diseases. Some common symptoms are shortness of breath, discomfort in the chest, fatigue, and irregular heartbeat. There can be treatments for it depending on the disease: lifestyle changes, medication, surgery and other procedures.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease is any sort of disease that harms the heart or blood vessels.
What causes cardiovascular disease?
There are many causes such as genetics, diet, smoking, drinking, obesity, or diabetes.
What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?
There are three main risk factors: smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
How can obesity lead to cardiovascular disease?
Obesity leads to arteries becoming clogged by fatty materials which can stop blood from being transported to the heart.
How can diabetes cause cardiovascular disease?
High blood sugar caused by diabetes can damage the blood vessels and nerves of the heart.
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