Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and they include:
- coronary heart disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle;
- cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain;
- peripheral arterial disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs;
- rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria;
- congenital heart disease – malformations of heart structure existing at birth;
- deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.
Heart attacks and strokes are usually acute events and are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain. The most common reason for this is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or brain. Strokes can also be caused by bleeding from a blood vessel in the brain or from blood clots. The cause of heart attacks and strokes are usually the presence of a combination of risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol, hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidaemia.
What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?
The most important behavioural risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. The effects of behavioural risk factors may show up in individuals as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and overweight and obesity. These “intermediate risks factors” can be measured in primary care facilities and indicate an increased risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other complications.
Cessation of tobacco use, reduction of salt in the diet, consuming fruits and vegetables, regular physical activity and avoiding harmful use of alcohol have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, drug treatment of diabetes, hypertension and high blood lipids may be necessary to reduce cardiovascular risk and prevent heart attacks and strokes. Health policies that create conducive environments for making healthy choices affordable and available are essential for motivating people to adopt and sustain healthy behaviour.
There are also a number of underlying determinants of CVDs or “the causes of the causes”. These are a reflection of the major forces driving social, economic and cultural change – globalization, urbanization and population ageing. Other determinants of CVDs include poverty, stress and hereditary factors.