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What are cardiovascular diseases?

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

- coronary heart disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle;
- cerebrovascular disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain;
- peripheral arterial disease – a 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 – birth defects that affect the normal development and functioning of the heart caused by malformations of the heart structure from birth; and
- 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 be caused by bleeding from a blood vessel in the brain or from blood clots.

Symptoms of heart disease in the blood vessels

Coronary artery disease is a common heart condition that affects the major blood vessels that supply the heart muscle. Cholesterol deposits (plaques) in the heart arteries are usually the cause of coronary artery disease. The buildup of these plaques is called atherosclerosis (ath-ur-o-skluh-ROE-sis). Atherosclerosis reduces blood flow to the heart and other parts of the body. It can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.
Coronary artery disease symptoms may be different for men and women. For instance, men are more likely to have chest pain. Women are more likely to have other symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea and extreme fatigue.

Symptoms of coronary artery disease can include:

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort (angina)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper belly area or back
  • Pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in the legs or arms if the blood vessels in those body areas are narrowed

Heart disease symptoms caused by irregular heartbeats (heart arrhythmias)

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting (syncope) or near fainting
  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Lightheadedness
  • Racing heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow heartbeat (bradycardia)

Heart disease symptoms caused by congenital heart defects

  • Pale gray or blue skin or lips (cyanosis)
  • Swelling in the legs, belly area or areas around the eyes
  • In an infant, shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain

Vascular Disease Types

  • Aneurysm
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Blood clots in veins (VTE)
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Buerger's disease
  • Lymphedema
  • Peripheral venous disease
  • Varicose veins
  • Raynaud's phenomenon (Raynaud's disease or Raynaud's syndrome)
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Vascular Disease Causes and Risk Factors

Vascular disease causes can include:

Atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in your arteries
Blockage in your blood vessel by a mass of debris (embolus) or blood clot (thrombus)
Inflammation, called vasculitis
Trauma or injury

Vascular Disease Prevention - If you haven’t been diagnosed with vascular disease, some of those lifestyle changes can help keep you healthy. Eat a good diet, exercise regularly, and don’t smoke.

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You can help prevent heart disease by doing key things and making them into habits.

Strong studies make it possible to link reductions in risk to these habits. Following a healthy lifestyle may prevent over 80% of cases of coronary artery disease, 50% of ischemic strokes, 80% of sudden cardiac deaths, and 72% of premature deaths related to heart disease. In other words, a healthy lifestyle is a good investment in a longer, healthier life.


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When to see a doctor

Seek emergency medical care if you have these heart disease symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting
Always call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack.
Heart disease is easier to treat when detected early. Talk to your health care provider if you have any concerns about your heart health. Together, you and your provider can discuss ways to reduce your heart disease risk. This is especially important if you have a family history of heart disease.
If you think you may symptoms of heart disease, make an appointment to see your provider.

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