Cardiovascular disease (heart disease or CVD) is the leading cause of deaths worldwide and the biggest killer in the UK, with roughly a third of all deaths in 2009 caused by diseases involving the heart or blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, and veins). It is recommended that people over 40, and men over 40 in particular, should have regular cardiovascular health checkups to evaluate the risk of developing CVD. This can refer to a number of different diseases of the heart, the most common of which are heart disease (which causes heart attacks) and stroke.
Our doctors can help you quantify and compare your cardiovascular risk.
Risk factors of cardiovascular disease
Nine major risk factors, many of which are lifestyle-related and therefore often linked to:
1) High blood pressure / hypertension is the most common cause of CVD. When left untreated, it can damage artery walls and lead to blood clots;
2) High blood cholesterol levels narrow your arteries, increasing the risk of a blood clot;
3) Smoking damages and narrows coronary arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease;
4) Lack of exercise usually contributes to high cholesterol, blood pressure and/or stress levels, and increases your likelihood of being overweight;
5) Overweight and obesity increase your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure and is often accompanied by a poor diet;
6) Diet is an important factor; high fat intake leads to fatty deposits in your arteries, which cause high blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels, and high sugar intake is associated with diabetes;
7) Diabetes, both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes can damage your arteries;
8) Stress increases blood pressure and releases hormones that are associated with increased glucose levels in the blood;
9) High alcohol intake increases cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.
In addition to these, age, family history, and gender are also contributing factors. You are more likely to develop CVD after reaching your forties, if you are male, and if any immediate family members have had heart disease or hereditary lipid disorders.
Conditions of cardiovascular disease
CVD includes any disease affecting the cardiovascular system, but the most common of these are coronary heart disease (angina and heart attacks) and stroke. These are caused by atherosclerosis (also called atheroma or arteriosclerosis).
Atheroma are small, fatty lumps that are deposited into the arteries, and which can develop into hard patches, or plaques, which narrow the space through which blood normally passes. If the amount of oxygen-rich blood that can reach the heart is reduced, it can cause a heart attack. If a blood clot (thrombosis) develops over a patch of atheroma forms, it may cause the cutting off of blood supply to the brain, leading to a stroke.
Other CVDs include: cardiomyopathy, hypertensive heart disease, heart failure, cardiac dysrhythmias, Inflammatory heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, and rheumatic heart disease.
Screening for cardiovascular risk
Screening with a doctor involves discussing lifestyle habits that contribute to risk; a blood test to check cholesterol and glucose levels; and blood pressure test. Other factors such as age, family history, and ethnicity are incorporated. Your risk will be given as a percentage, or your chances of developing CVD. High risk is over 20% and can be addressed with immediate lifestyle changes and/or medication, moderate is 10-20% and requires a yearly re-assessment; and low risk is below 10%, with a recommended re-assessment in five years.
If you are worried about your cardiovascular health, immediate measures you can take include changing your diet to a lower fat intake with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables; quitting tobacco use, if you are a smoker; limiting alcohol consumption; taking regular exercise.