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Cardiovascular disease terms

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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a broad term for a range of diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels. A heart attack or stroke may be the first warning of an underlying disease.

Heart attack symptoms include discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back; pain in other body parts such as arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; nausea, breaking out in a cold sweat and light-headedness.

Stroke symptoms include sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg – most often on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding; sudden difficulty in seeing; sudden trouble walking or dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and sudden, severe headache without a known cause.

Types of cardiovascular disease include:

There are many different types of disease that can lead to either a heart attack or stroke and for ease we have separated these diseases into those that directly affect the heart, the brain and the peripheral circulatory system.  

Heart-related cardiovascular disease

Acute coronary syndromes
A term that refers to situations where the blood-supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked, resulting in heart attacks and unstable angina.

Angina pectoris, commonly known as angina, is chest pain due to a lack of blood to the heart muscle. Worsening angina attacks are a sign of unstable angina that can lead to a heart attack.

Arrhythmia describes an abnormal heart rhythm. The heart can beat too slowly, too fast or irregularly affecting how well the heart works and how blood is pumped around the body.

Literally, this means heart muscle disease and cardiomyopathy refers to any disease that affects the muscle of the heart. Often leads to arrhythmia or sudden cardiac death.

Congenital heart disease
Refers to heart malformations that are present at birth. In many cases the cause is unknown but examples of the disease include “holes in the heart”, abnormal valves or abnormal heart chambers. All of which affect the heart’s ability to work normally.

Coronary heart disease
A disease where one or more of the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle becomes blocked. Blockage of these arteries means that some of the heart muscle becomes deprived of oxygen, which results in angina or a heart attack.
Heart failure
Heart failure is a condition where the heart is not pumping enough blood to meet the needs of the body. It is a progressive disease where the heart starts to work harder to meet the body’s need until it can no longer sustain the effort needed.  Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump out all the blood that returns to it and the blood starts backing up in the veins that lead to the heart. This results in fluid accumulating in various parts of the body causing swelling (edema).

Inflammatory heart disease
Inflammatory heart disease involves inflammation of the heart muscle and/or the tissue surrounding it.

Ischaemic heart disease
Ischaemic heart disease is characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart muscle i.e. myocardium. This occurs when plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries, a condition called atherosclerosis.

Rheumatic heart disease
An acquired heart disease that is caused by rheumatic fever, which itself is caused by a preceding group A streptococcal (strep) infection of the throat. If left untreated this disease affects the valves of the heart and can eventually lead to serious complications or even death.  

Valvular disease
Valvular disease describes a disease of the valves within the heart that are needed to regulate blood flow. Valve disease means that the valves either don’t open enough to allow blood to flow freely or they don’t close effectively and blood can flow backwards.  

Brain-related cardiovascular disease

Cerebrovascular disease (stroke)
A stroke is the brain equivalent of a heart attack and is where blood flow to the brain is blocked or interrupted. The affected part of the brain is then deprived of oxygen and nutrients leading to cell death. There are two types of stroke – haemorrhagic and ischaemic.

Haemorrhagic stroke
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when weakened blood vessels rupture and bleed into the surrounding brain tissue. The blood then accumulates and starts to compress the brain. Further, brain tissue beyond the rupture is starved of oxygen.

Ischaemic stroke
In an ischaemic stroke, blood supply to part of the brain is blocked. The decrease in blood supply causes brain cells to die, which affects a person’s ability to carry out vital functions such as walking or talking.  

Circulatory system-related cardiovascular diseases

Deep vein thrombosis
A condition where blood clots form in the veins, usually the leg veins. These clots can then dislodge and travel through bloodstream to an artery in lungs, where they block blood flow. This condition is called pulmonary embolism.

Hypertensive heart disease
Refers to heart damage that results from high blood pressure and includes coronary artery disease, heart failure and thickening of the heart muscle.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
Refers to a narrowing of the arteries outside of the heart or brain – most commonly to the lower extremities. It results in the reduction or stoppage of blood flowing to these extremities. If severe and prolonged, this can lead to tissue death and if left untreated can result in the need to amputate the affected limb.  

Pulmonary embolism
A sudden blockage in an artery going to the lung by a blood clot that was formed elsewhere in the body. It can cause permanent damage to the lung that can prevent other organs from getting oxygenated blood. If the clot is large or there are many clots it can cause sudden death.