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
- 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.
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.
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).
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.