Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a general term used to describe disorders that can affect your heart (cardio) and/or your body’s system of blood vessels (vascular).

Most cardiovascular diseases reflect chronic conditions – conditions that develop or persist over a long period of time. However, some of the outcomes of cardiovascular disease may be acute events such as heart attacks and strokes, that occur suddenly when a vessel supplying blood to the heart or brain becomes blocked.

The most popular usage of the term CVD is in reference to diseases that are associated with atherosclerosis. These diseases occur more frequently in people who smoke, who have high blood pressure, who have high blood cholesterol (especially high LDL), who are overweight, who do not exercise and/or who have diabetes. Public health initiatives focus on decreasing CVD by encouraging people to follow a healthy diet, avoid smoking, control their blood pressure, lower their blood cholesterol, exercise regularly and, if they are diabetic, maintain good control of blood glucose. Some of the classifications of CVD as described above include:

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) and coronary artery disease (CAD) – disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart that may lead to:
  • Angina – intense chest pain
  • Heart attack – myocardial infarction
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Peripheral vascular disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs that can lead to:
  • Claudication – obstructed blood flow in arteries, causing pain
  • Gangrene – death of tissues in legs due to poor circulation
  • Aneurysms – (bulges or enlargement) in the aorta and other blood vessels

A number of other diseases actually affect the heart and other blood vessels, including the veins. The heart can be damaged by problems that occur during development of the heart, termed congenital heart disease. Damage to the valves of the heart may occur from infections, termed endocarditis. The muscle of the heart may be damaged, either slowly (termed cardiomyopathy) or more quickly by infections (termed myocarditis). These and other heart diseases besides atherosclerosis are discussed in the heart disease page. Blood clots may develop in veins (thrombi), and may detach and go to other organs (termed emboli). Blood vessels may be damaged by inflammation, termed vasculitis.