Cardiovascular disease 

Introduction 

Cardiac risk assessment

Find out how a cardiovascular risk assessment can detect whether you're at risk of heart disease.

Media last reviewed: 14/05/2013

Next review due: 14/05/2015

Public health problem

Cardiovascular disease is a big health problem and the leading cause of death both in the UK and worldwide.

In the UK, over 1.6 million men and over one million women are affected by chronic heart disease.

It is responsible for more than 88,000 deaths in the UK each year (an average of 224 people each day or one death every six minutes).

Most deaths from heart disease are caused by heart attacks. In the UK, there are about 124,000 heart attacks each year.

There are also around 152,000 strokes in the UK each year, resulting in over 43,000 deaths.

Love your heart

Poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking are the main offenders behind the UK's high level of deaths from heart disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term that describes a disease of the heart or blood vessels.

Blood flow to the heart, brain or body can be reduced as a result of a:

  • blood clot (thrombosis)
  • build-up of fatty deposits inside an artery, leading to the artery hardening and narrowing (atherosclerosis)

Types of CVD

There are four main types of CVD:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • aortic disease

Each type is discussed in more detail below.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when your heart's blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances (atheroma) in the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are the two major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood.

If your coronary arteries become narrow due to a build-up of atheroma, the blood supply to your heart will be restricted. This can cause angina (chest pains). If a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack.

Read more about coronary heart disease.

Stroke

A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed.

Like all organs, your brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. This is provided by the blood, so if your blood flow is restricted or stopped, brain cells will begin to die. This can lead to brain damage and possibly death.

Therefore, a stroke is a medical emergency and prompt treatment is essential. The sooner a person receives treatment, the less damage is likely to occur.

The main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST which stands for:

  • Face  the face may have drooped on one side, the person may not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have drooped
  • Arms  the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift their arm and keep it raised due to weakness or numbness
  • Speech  the person's speech may be slurred or garbled, or they may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake
  • Time  it is time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms

Read more about stroke and recognising the signs of stroke.

Peripheral arterial disease

Peripheral arterial disease, also known as peripheral vascular disease, occurs when there is a blockage in the arteries to your limbs (usually your legs).

The most common symptom of peripheral arterial disease is pain in your legs when walking. This is usually in one or both of your thighs, hips or calves.

The pain can feel like cramp, a dull pain or a sensation of heaviness in the muscles of your legs. It usually comes and goes and gets worse during exercise that uses your legs, such as walking or climbing stairs.

Read more about peripheral arterial disease.

Aortic disease

The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body. It carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

The most common type of aortic disease is aortic aneurysm, which is where the wall of the aorta becomes weakened and bulges outwards. You will usually experience pain in your chest, back or abdomen (tummy).

Preventing CVD

Most deaths caused by cardiovascular disease are premature and could easily be prevented by making lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and stopping smoking.

It is estimated that CVD is responsible for around 1 in 3 premature deaths in men and 1 in 5 premature deaths in women.

Read more about how to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Page last reviewed: 03/07/2012

Next review due: 03/07/2014

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Healthy hearts

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the UK. Find out what to do to keep your heart fit for purpose