Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and they 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. The cause of heart attacks and strokes are usually the presence of a combination of risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol, hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidaemia.
What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?
The most important behavioural risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. The effects of behavioural risk factors may show up in individuals as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and overweight and obesity. These “intermediate risks factors” can be measured in primary care facilities and indicate an increased risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other complications.
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.
How can the burden of cardiovascular diseases be reduced?
“Best buys” or very cost effective interventions that are feasible to be implemented even in low-resource settings have been identified by WHO for prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases. They include two types of interventions: population-wide and individual, which are recommended to be used in combination to reduce the greatest cardiovascular disease burden.
Journal of Clinical chemistry and Laboratory Medicne