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  Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and include:

  • coronary heart disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle
  • cerebrovascular disease - disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain
  • peripheral arterial disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs
  • rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria
  • congenital heart disease - malformations of heart structure existing at birth
  • deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.

Heart attacks and strokes are usually acute events and are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain. The most common reason for this is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or brain. Strokes can also be caused by bleeding from a blood vessel in the brain or from blood clots.

What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?

The most important behavioural risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. Behavioural risk factors are responsible for about 80% of coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.

The effects of unhealthy diet and physical inactivity may show up in individuals as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and overweight and obesity; these are called 'intermediate risk factors'.

There are also a number of underlying determinants of CVDs, or, if you like, "the causes of the causes". These are a reflection of the major forces driving social, economic and cultural change – globalization, urbanization, and population ageing. Other determinants of CVDs are poverty and stress.

What are common symptoms of cardiovascular diseases?

Symptoms of heart attacks and strokes

Often, there are no symptoms of the underlying disease of the blood vessels. A heart attack or stroke may be the first warning of underlying disease. Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • pain or discomfort in the centre of the chest;
  • pain or discomfort in the arms, the left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back.

In addition the person may experience difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath; feeling sick or vomiting; feeling light-headed or faint; breaking into a cold sweat; and becoming pale. Women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

The most common symptom of a stroke is sudden weakness of the face, arm, or leg, most often on one side of the body. Other symptoms include sudden onset of: numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech; difficulty seeing with one or both eyes; difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; severe headache with no known cause; and fainting or unconsciousness.

People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.

What is rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by damage to the heart valves and heart muscle from the inflammation and scarring caused by rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is caused by streptococcal bacteria, which usually begins as a sore throat or tonsillitis in children.

Rheumatic fever mostly affects children in developing countries, especially where poverty is widespread. Globally, almost 2% of deaths from cardiovascular diseases is related to rheumatic heart disease, while 42% of deaths from cardiovascular diseases is related to ischaemic heart disease, and 34% to cerebrovascular disease.

Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease

  • Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease include: shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heart beats, chest pain and fainting.
  • Symptoms of rheumatic fever include: fever, pain and swelling of the joints, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting.


Treatment

  • Early treatment of streptococcal sore throat can stop the development of rheumatic fever. Regular long-term penicillin treatment can prevent repeat attacks of rheumatic fever which give rise to rheumatic heart disease and can stop disease progression in people whose heart valves are already damaged by the disease.

The above information is abstracted from the website of the World Healthh Organisation (WHO)
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