What Is Cardiovascular Disease?

cardiovascular disease

“Cardiovascular disease” is an umbrella term that refers to several conditions. People use the term “heart disease” in the same way. 

Both refer to medical conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels. As a group, these conditions are the leading cause of death in the U.S. 

What Are Common Forms of Cardiovascular Disease?

Problems with the heart or blood vessels can cause several medical conditions. The most common include:

  • Heart attack. This is when blood flow to an area of the heart muscle is blocked. As a result, that section of tissue begins to die. People who get prompt medical care often survive a first heart attack. However, they must undergo treatment and make lifestyle changes to prevent a subsequent heart attack.
  • Stroke. A stroke is when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted. There are two types: ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. An ischemic event occurs when a clot blocks an artery in the brain. In a hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel in the brain bursts (or hemorrhages). The death of brain tissue can cause permanent effects. 
  • Heart failure. Doctors may refer to this condition as congestive heart failure. It doesn’t mean that the heart stops, but that it fails progressively, losing its ability to move blood effectively through the body. 
  • Heart valve issues. The heart has valves that must open and close correctly for blood to move from one heart chamber to the next and then out into the body. When valves don’t close properly, blood leaks back into the heart chamber that it should be leaving. That leakage is called regurgitation. It can result in the heart working harder than it should and other problems.
  • Heart arrhythmias. Abnormal heart rhythms are called arrhythmias. There are several types, including rhythms that are irregular, too fast (tachycardia), or too slow (bradycardia). Arrhythmias can lead to various problems, including the heart not pumping enough blood to meet the body’s needs. 
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism. DVT blood clots typically develop in the legs. They can break free and travel to your lungs in a life-threatening event that’s called a pulmonary embolism

Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors

You’re more likely to develop cardiovascular disease if you have one or more of these risk factors:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking and other tobacco use
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diet high in fat, sodium, and sugar
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Certain autoimmune diseases
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions
  • Preeclampsia or toxemia
  • Gestational diabetes

How Do Doctors Treat Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease treatment varies based on the specific condition but can include:

  • Medications, such as those that help lower plaque-forming cholesterol or break up blood clots
  • Surgeries to repair heart valves or replace or bypass sections of arteries
  • Pacemaker implantation to control the heart’s rhythm
  • Coronary angioplasty and stent placement to widen narrowed arteries and keep them open 

Of course, it’s much better to prevent heart disease than to have to treat it. 

Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by:

  • Eating a healthy diet that keeps your cholesterol level within the accepted range
  • Avoiding tobacco products
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing your stress level
  • Having regular checkups and following your doctor’s advice for maintaining good heart health
  • Treating conditions that can contribute to heart disease, such as diabetes and high blood pressure 

As a “bonus,” the steps above also reduce your risk of several other health problems!

Learn About Heart Care at Baptist Health

Keeping your heart healthy is essential to enjoying life to the fullest. Our heart care specialists at Baptist Health can help you do that.


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