Understanding cardiovascular disease

We’re often confronted with headlines stating that cardiovascular disease is a leading killer in Australia, but what is it and how can you reduce your risk?

There are various conditions and diseases that fall under the general umbrella term of cardiovascular disease, but the one thing they have in common is that they affect the heart or blood supply via the veins and arteries.

Such diseases develop over time and are often the result of poor lifestyle choices. They include:

Aneurysm
A bulge in a vein or artery that can burst

Angina
Pain and discomfort in the chest caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart

Atherosclerosis
Build-up of fatty deposits, known as plaque, on the inner walls of the arteries, leading to narrowing and reduced blood flow. This can result in angina, heart attack or stroke.

Coronary heart disease
Narrowing of the heart arteries

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
A blood clot forms in a vein located deep in the body. A part of this can break off and if it reaches the brain, it can cause a stroke.

Heart attack
When an artery carrying blood to the heart becomes completely blocked, it stops the blood flow to parts of the heart.

High blood pressure
Long-term high blood pressure can damage the heart, arteries and other organs, and therefore increase the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

Stroke
A blocked artery to the brain or a bleeding blood vessel in the brain can cause brain damage. This results in a stroke, the symptoms of which are numbness, weakness or paralysis (often down one side), loss of balance, decreased or blurred vision and trouble speaking.

As noted previously, cardiovascular disease is often the result of poor lifestyle choices, such as an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking, excessive drinking and being overweight. However, it can also be the result of family history and genetics.

How can cardiovascular health be improved?

You can take some simple steps to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • have your blood pressure regularly checked and know what’s healthy for your age and weight
  • have regular cholesterol checks and discuss medication to lower your cholesterol, if required
  • increase your fruit and vegetable intake and opt for the reduced-fat version of foods; add more grains and nuts to your diet; eat more lean meat and keep saturated fats and salt to a minimum
  • try to achieve 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day
  • keep your alcohol intake to the recommended limit or below
  • try to reduce your weight

If you have any concerns about your cardiovascular health, or if you experience chest tightness, shortness of breath, frequent dizzy spells, or pain that would indicate DVT, then you should consult your GP as soon as possible.

Related articles:
Heart disease hotspots revealed
Heart disease and what to do

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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