With Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs) being the number 1 cause of death globally, it can seem like a very intimidating subject to learn about. So many people are being affected by CVDs so, we wanted to do something to help you be more aware of the causes, risks, symptoms and prevention. Cardiovascular Diseases are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels that can 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 due to fatty build-up on the walls of the blood vessels. The most common risk factors of heart disease are tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, lack of physical activity, harmful use of alcohol, hypertension and diabetes.
Often, there are no actual symptoms of the underlying disease in the blood vessels, which unfortunately, can mean a heart attack or stroke may be the first warning that you notice. The good news is that there are warning signs for heart attacks. The most common being:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, the left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back
- Shortness of breath
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea and lightheadedness
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
- Fainting or unconsciousness
**If you experience any of these signs, call 9-1-1**
80% of heart attacks and strokes are preventable. So the big questions is: What can you do to avoid CVD?
Take regular physical activity: At least 30 minutes of regular physical activity every day helps to maintain cardiovascular fitness; 60 minutes on most days helps to maintain healthy weight.
Avoid tobacco use: Tobacco in every form is very harmful to health – cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or chewable tobacco. Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke is also dangerous. The risk of heart attack and stroke starts to drop immediately after a person stops using tobacco products, and can drop by as much as half after one year.
Eat a healthy diet: A balanced diet is crucial to a healthy heart and circulation system. This should include plenty of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish, and restricted salt, sugar and fat intake. Many people do not eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables. In order to improve fruit and vegetable consumption you should:
- Include one serving of vegetables in your meal
- Eat fruit and raw vegetables as snacks
- Vary choices of fruits and vegetables
The exact make-up of a healthy, balanced diet will vary depending on the individuals need.
For more information on this, and any other health related topics, visit the World Health Organization.