CardioVascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to a class of diseases that involve the heart and/or blood vessels (e.g. arteries). The major types of cardiovascular disease are coronary artery disease, stroke and heart failure/cardiomyopathy, but less common forms include rheumatic and congenital heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease is commonly related to atherosclerosis, a process whereby fatty deposits (‘plaques’) form in your arteries, causing them to narrow and possibly block completely. When atherosclerosis affects the major arteries in the body it can cause a heart attack, stroke or peripheral arterial disease. Below is a list of diseases that fall under cardiovascular disease.

Aortic Aneurysm/Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Occurs when the large blood vessel (the aorta) that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis and legs becomes abnormally large or balloons outward. This type of aneurysm is most often found in men over age 60 who have at least one or more risk factor, including emphysema, family history, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking.

Acute Coronary Syndrome

Acute coronary syndrome is an umbrella term for when blood supplied to the heart muscle is decreased or blocked, leading to a heart attack.

The common signs of acute coronary syndrome are chest pain or discomfort, which may involve pressure, tightness or fullness; pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck, back or stomach; shortness of breath; feeling dizzy or lightheaded; nausea; or sweating.

Angina Pectoris

Also called angina, is the medical term for chest pain or discomfort due to coronary heart disease. Angina pectoris occurs when the heart muscle doesn’t get as much blood as it needs. This usually happens because one or more of the heart’s arteries is narrowed or blocked, also called ischemia.

Stable angina refers to “predictable” chest discomfort associated with physical exertion or mental or emotional stress. Unstable angina refers to unexpected chest pain and usually occurs at rest. It is typically more severe and prolonged. Unstable angina should be treated as an emergency.


A form of arteriosclerosis in which the inner layers of artery walls become thick and irregular because of deposits of fat, cholesterol and other substances. This buildup is called plaque and can cause arteries to narrow, reducing the blood flow through them.

Eventually plaque can erode the wall of the artery and diminish its elasticity. Plaque deposits can rupture, causing blood clots to form at the rupture that can block blood flow or break off and travel to another part of the body. This is a common cause of heart attack or ischemic stroke.

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)/Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)

The most common type of heart disease. It is when plaque builds up in the heart’s arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis. As plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow to the heart.

If blood flow becomes reduced or blocked, angina (chest pain) or a heart attack may occur. Over time, coronary artery disease can also lead to heart failure and arrhythmias.

Heart attack/Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI)

Occurs when a blocked coronary artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart muscle. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die.

Symptoms can come on suddenly but may start slowly and persist over time. Warning signs include discomfort in the chest (pressure, squeezing, fullness), discomfort in other upper-body areas (arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach), shortness of breath, a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

Heart Failure/Congestive Heart Failure

Occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to the organs. The heart works, but not as well as it should. Heart failure is almost always a chronic, long-term condition. The older you are, the more common congestive heart failure becomes.

Your risk also rises if you are overweight, diabetic, smoke, abuse alcohol or use cocaine. When a heart begins to fail, fluid can pool in the body; this manifests as swelling (edema), usually in the lower legs and ankles. Fluid also may collect in the lungs, causing shortness of breath.

Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD)

A heart problem caused by heart arteries that are narrowed. When there are blockages in arteries, they become narrowed, which means less blood and oxygen reaches the heart muscle. When more oxygen is needed, such as while exercising, the heart cannot meet the demands.

The lack of oxygen caused by ischemic heart disease can produce chest pain, discomfort known as angina pectoris or even a heart attack.

Ischemic Stroke

Occurs when a blood clot or other particle blocks an artery in the brain or an artery leading to the brain. This causes brain cells to die or be injured. Cerebral thrombosis and cerebral embolism are ischemic strokes.

Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

Occurs when narrow arteries reduce blood flow to the limbs, mainly in the legs and feet. Symptoms can include pain in the legs or buttocks when exercising that goes away when the activity is stopped.


An element in blood that aids in blood clotting.


An interruption of blood flow to the brain causing paralysis, slurred speech and/or altered brain function. About nine of every 10 strokes are caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that carries blood to the brain. This is known as an ischemic stroke.

The other type of stroke is known as hemorrhagic, caused by a blood vessel bursting.

Warning signs include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side), sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding,  sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Sudden Cardiac Death

Can occur when someone in sudden cardiac arrest is not treated promptly. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and the heart suddenly stops beating often without warning. While the terms “sudden cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” are often used as if they are synonyms, they aren’t.

Sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest, but most heart attacks do not lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Immediate CPR can double or triple the chances of survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

Source: American Heart Association. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term that refers to the entire group of heart and blood vessel diseases. Cardiovascular disease can be treated. Talk to your doctor. 

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