Cardiovascular Disease

Last Updated: December 9, 2022

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad term that refers to various diseases of the heart and blood vessels. Atherosclerotic CVD (ASCVD) is the most common subtype of CVD and causes strokes and heart attacks.

Cardiovascular Disease falls under theCardiovascular Healthcategory.

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) encompasses various diseases of the heart and blood vessels, and is one of the most common causes of death globally. Atherosclerotic CVD (ASCVD) is the most common. It involves the deposition of cholesterol plaques along artery walls, a process that starts early in life and that can lead to blood vessel blockage in the heart, causing heart attack (or angina with a partial blockage). ASCVD that causes an acute blockage in blood vessels in the brain can lead to stroke (or a transient ischemic attack when the blockage is temporary); when ASCVD affects blood flow to the extremities it can lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Some other diseases of the heart include cardiac dysrhythmias (irregular heart beat), valvular heart disease, cardiomyopathy, and heart failure.[1]

What are the main signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease?

Signs and symptoms of CVD vary depending on the specific condition. Severity can range from asymptomatic to sudden and severe symptoms such as chest pain, irregular or rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness, headache, and slurred speech, or other neurological problems. See individual pages for coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), and peripheral artery disease for specific information.[1]

How is cardiovascular disease diagnosed?

Depending on symptoms, cardiovascular disease is diagnosed starting with a clinical history and physical exam. Symptoms such as angina, decreased exercise tolerance, shortness of breath, intermittent claudication, syncope (fainting), etc. can signal that additional testing is needed to determine the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. Presence of known risk factors such as smoking, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, family history of CVD, and dyslipidemia all raise the probability of CVD. Laboratory diagnostic tests such as electrocardiogram, blood tests (including cardiac enzymes), stress test, and cardiac imaging (MIBI scan/cardiac CT scan, etc) may also be warranted.[1]

What are some of the main medical treatments for cardiovascular disease?

Medical treatments for cardiovascular disease vary depending on the type of disease and a key preventative practice is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Some examples include catheter-directed thrombolysis for acute ischemic stroke, angioplasty for coronary or peripheral artery disease (CAD, PAD), and coronary stenting or vessel replacement (also known as coronary artery bypass graft, or CABG) for coronary artery disease. Pharmacotherapy targeting CVD risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, and medications that prevent blood clots, are also important to slow and prevent the worsening of CVD.[1]

Have any supplements been studied for cardiovascular disease?

Many dietary supplements have been studied for cardiovascular disease; see the condition pages for specific CVD for more complete lists. Some examples of supplements include omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins (e.g., folic acid and vitamin B12), magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and others.[2][3] Certain herbal supplements such as garlic, hawthorn, and arjun (Terminalia arjuna) have also been studied for CVD.[4]

How could diet affect cardiovascular disease?

A high intake of calories, saturated fats, and sugars is associated with the development of metabolic conditions (e.g. diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol), which in turn can lead to the development of CVD. Following dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet can help to prevent the development of CVD. Following a DASH diet without excess salt can help with high blood pressure, an important risk factor for CVD. Dietary practices like intermittent fasting and caloric restriction can help to attain and maintain normal body weight, to also prevent the development of CVD.[5]

Are there any other treatments for cardiovascular disease?

To prevent cardiovascular disease, common recommendations include following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, smoking cessation, and regular physical activity.[6] Managing and/or preventing diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis progression, and obesity are key to managing cardiovascular disease. See individual pages for more specific information.

What causes cardiovascular disease?

The specific cause of CVD depends on the type of CVD, but there are certain risk factors that increase the risk of developing the most common types of CVD. Large studies like the INTERHEART study (spanning 52 countries) and the Framingham Heart Study have found that the following factors are linked to a higher risk of developing CVD: smoking, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure, diabetes/glucose intolerance, abdominal obesity, physical inactivity, low consumption of fruits and vegetables, and psychosocial factors (e.g, depression, stress).[1]

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