Chronic Care Information and Resources

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease refers to a range of conditions that affect the arteries, blood vessels, and the heart itself, otherwise known as the cardiovascular system. Cardiovascular disease generally refers to narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke, along with other conditions affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm.[1]

Common Symptoms: Heart disease symptoms can vary based on the type and severity of the condition. They can also become fatal if not treated in time. Cardiovascular symptoms often include chest pain, shortness of breath, chest tightness, numbness, pain, swelling, or tingling sensations in the extremities if circulation is affected, pain in the neck, jaw or upper back.[2] Heart arrhythmias or irregular heart beats might be noticed in someone with heart disease and may be accompanied by fainting, dizziness, lightheadedness, slow heartbeat, and chest pain. Heart attacks and strokes are obvious signs of heart trouble.

Heart attacks occur when the blood flow to the heart chambers are blocked by a blood clot. As the clot cuts off blood flow to the heart, the section of the heart muscle supplied by that artery begins to die.

Strokes: There are two types of strokes: Ischemic strokes are the most common and occur when a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow within a blood vessel that connects to the brain.

This can result in some brain cell damage and loss of control of areas controlled by that section of the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes occur due to the burst of a blood vessel within the brain and can occur due to uncontrolled hypertension.[3]

Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should. The heart does not stop pumping, but the pumping is not sufficient for blood and oxygen to meet the body’s needs.

Causes: Cardiovascular disease is most commonly linked to diet and lifestyle. Those who are overweight or obese, have high blood pressure, or consume an unhealthy diet overall are more likely to develop atherosclerosis over time. However, there are several other causes ranging from congenital heart defects to infections:

  • Atherosclerotic disease (hardening of the arteries over time)
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Heart defects
  • Cardiomyopathy (weakness of the heart muscle)
  • Endocarditis (heart infection)
  • Valvular Heart Disease[4]

Treatment: For atherosclerosis and/or hypertension, diet and lifestyle interventions are necessary to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.[5] Maintaining a healthy weight, incorporating healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and fatty fish containing omega-3s, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats will help to improve your lipid profile, lower triglycerides and boost good cholesterol.[6] High-sugar diets and diets high in trans fats are both linked to heart disease, so keeping your sugar and carbohydrate intake low is important, as is cooking with heart healthy oils rather than with margarine and vegetable oils. Lowering sodium and maintaining a healthy nutrient and electrolyte balance will help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels, as will routine exercise. A doctor may also suggested cutting your alcohol intake to preserve your heart health as well.

If you’re having symptoms of heart disease, a physician will quickly administer an echocardiogram (ECG) to check for any abnormalities as well as perform a chest X-ray, CT scan, or stress test. All procedures are meant to examine your heart’s rhythm, see if any injury has been found, search for blood clots, check blood flow, and search for any irregularities. Treatment interventions may include lifestyle changes, medications, and/or surgeries.[7]