It may sound like a single disease, but a cardiovascular disease is actually a group of over 60 disorders of the heart or blood vessel system (arteries, capillaries, and veins) within a person’s entire body. High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke are the most common forms. Depending on the specific condition, cardiovascular disease treatment may involve medication, lifestyle changes, or special procedures.
What Is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) refers to diseases that affect the heart or the blood vessel system within a person’s entire body. It is not one single disease or condition. Rather, it is a group of over 60 different disorders.
The Cardiovascular System and Cardiovascular Disease
The heart is a strong, muscular pump that is slightly larger than your fist. It pumps blood continuously through the circulatory system, the network of elastic tubes that allows blood to flow throughout the body. This system includes the heart and also the blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, and veins). Arteries and capillaries carry oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the heart and lungs to all parts of the body. Veins carry blood that has been depleted of oxygen and nutrients back to the heart and lungs.
Heart and blood vessel problems do not happen quickly. Over time, the arteries that bring blood to the heart and brain can become blocked due to a buildup of cells, fat, and cholesterol. This buildup is called plaque. Reduced blood flow to the heart (due to blockages in the arteries) causes heart attacks. Lack of blood flow to the brain from a blood clot, or bleeding in the brain from a broken blood vessel, causes a stroke.
Heart Disease vs. Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease and heart disease are different. Heart disease refers only to diseases of the heart and the blood vessel system within the heart. Cardiovascular disease refers to diseases of the heart and diseases of the entire blood vessel system (arteries, capillaries, and veins) within a person’s body, such as the brain, arms, legs, and lungs. “Cardio” refers to the heart, and “vascular” refers to the blood vessel system. So, heart disease is a type of cardiovascular disease.
Types of Cardiovascular Disease
There are over 60 types of cardiovascular disease. Some people are born with cardiovascular disease; others develop it throughout their lifetimes.
Some common cardiovascular diseases include:
1. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
2. Coronary heart disease (most people refer to it just as “heart disease”)
4. Heart attack
6. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension)
7. Congestive heart failure.
Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease can cause symptoms ranging from chest pain to sudden numbness of the face or arms. There are more than 60 forms of cardiovascular disease, so possible signs may not be the same in all cases. In general, symptoms occur most frequently in the heart and brain, as well as in the legs, pelvis, or arms.
An Introduction to Signs and Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is not one condition. Rather, it is a name used to describe conditions and diseases that affect the heart(“cardio”) and blood vessels (“vascular”) throughout the body. There are more than 60 types of cardiovascular disease, ranging from the common (coronary heart disease) to the not-so-common (tetralogy of Fallot). Some cardiovascular conditions are present at birth, while others develop over many years. When talking about symptoms of cardiovascular disease, it is not possible to provide a list, because each condition can have so many different symptoms.
That being said, while the cardiovascular disease can occur anywhere in the body, it does tend to occur more frequently in the:
Symptoms Affecting the Heart
There are a number of different types of heart disease. The most common is coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease). Coronary heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. If the arteries that supply the heart with blood, called the coronary arteries, are affected by coronary artery disease, you may have symptoms that include:
Chest pain or chest discomfort (angina)
Pain in one or both arms, the left shoulder, neck, jaw, or back
Shortness of breath
Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
Feeling very tired.