Cardiovascular diseases: Causes, symptoms & types

Cardiovascular diseases are related to the heart and blood vessels of the body. These diseases may harm one or more parts of the heart or blood vessels. A person suffering from cardiovascular disease may physically experience the symptoms or not feel anything at all. Cardiovascular diseases include rheumatic heart disease, endocarditis, pericardial tamponade, acute coronary syndromes conduction system abnormalities, monomorphic ventricular tachycardia, valve diseases, etc.

Cardiovascular diseases are the most common cause of death across the world, and in the United States alone, almost 50% of adults have one or more cardiovascular diseases. It affects both males and females equally. Factually one-third of women die from cardiovascular diseases. It is harmful to people of all age groups, socioeconomic levels, and ethnicities.

Causes and symptoms:

The causes of cardiovascular disease may differ depending on its specific type. For instance, peripheral artery disease or coronary artery disease is caused by plaque buildup in the arteries. Arrhythmias can be caused by scarring of the heart muscle, coronary artery disease, medications, or genetic problems. Valve disease can be due to infections, aging, rheumatic disease.

A person may be more likely to develop cardiovascular disease if he/she has risk factors such as:

  • Hypertension
  • High cholesterol or obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Tobacco use
  • Diet high in sodium, sugar, and fat
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Preeclampsia or toxemia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions
  • Urbanization, aging, and income(i.e., social determinants and drivers)

Symptoms of CVDs vary depending on the cause. A person might experience:

  • Chest tightness or pressure
  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Fluid build-up
  • Heart palpitations (heart pounding or racing)
  • Pain in your legs or arms or numb limbs
  • Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting

It is commonly noticed that men and women of elderly age are less symptomatic, despite having serious cardiovascular disease.

Types of cardiovascular diseases:

Coronary artery disease (CAD):

Coronary artery disease sometimes known as coronary heart disease results from low myocardial perfusion that causes myocardial infarction, angina, or heart failure. It accounts for 33% to 50% of the total cases of CVD.

Coronary artery disease is a result of atherosclerosis( i.e., the concentration of plaque inside the arteries). Plaque contains fatty substances, cholesterol, calcium, waste products, and the clotting substance fibrin. When plaque continues to collect inside artery walls, the arteries become narrow and stiff. Plaque can clog and damage the arteries, which reduces or at times stop blood flow to the heart muscle. If the heart fails to receive enough blood, it is unable to get the oxygen and nutrients required to function properly. This situation is known as ischemia. If the heart muscle does not get an adequate supply of blood, it may cause chest pain or chest discomfort (angina). It can also put the patient at risk of cardiac arrest.


The problems related to heart rhythm (heart arrhythmias) arise when the electrical impulses coordinating heartbeats fail to work properly, resulting in the heart beating too slow, too fast, or irregularly.

A heart arrhythmias person may feel like a racing or fluttering heart and maybe simply harmless. Some heart arrhythmias may lead to bothersome, and sometimes fatal signs and symptoms.

Heart arrhythmia treatment is used to eliminate or control slow, fast, or irregular heartbeats. Moreover, as the troublesome heart arrhythmias are made worse by a weak or damaged heart, one may be able to control the arrhythmia risk by adopting a lifestyle that is healthy for the heart.

The following are the two types of arrhythmias:

  • Tachycardia: This relates to the fast heartbeat — a resting heartbeat of more than 100 per minute.
  • Bradycardia: This relates to a slow heartbeat — a resting heartbeat less than 60 per minute.

Valve diseases:

The heart has four valves that function to keep the blood flowing in the right direction. In heart valve disease, on or more valves don’t work properly, or fail to open or close properly. This can lead to disrupted blood flow to the body through the heart.

The heart valve disease treatment is based on the valve affected and the nature and severity of the valve disease. At times, heart valve disease needs surgery to repair or replace the heart valve. Heart valve disease can lead to the risks of stroke, blood clots, heart rhythm abnormalities, heart failure, and even death.

Cerebrovascular disease (CVD):

Cerebrovascular diseases relate to the conditions that affect the flow of blood, and blood vessels in the brain. Blood flow problems may arise as a result of blood vessel narrowing (stenosis), artery blockage (embolism), clot formation (thrombosis), or blood vessel rupture (hemorrhage).

Insufficient flow of blood, also called ischemia, affects brain tissues and may lead to a stroke. CVD can lead to conditions like cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM), stroke, aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations (AVM), and transient ischemic attack (TIA).

Peripheral artery disease (PAD):

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs in the legs or lower parts of the body due to the narrowing or blockage of the blood-carrying vessels from the heart to the legs and lower parts of the body. It is generally caused by the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries, which is known as atherosclerosis. The peripheral arterial disease can happen in any of the blood vessels, but it is more common in the legs than in other limbs of the body.

Physical symptoms in the legs that may indicate PAD include hair loss, smooth shiny skin, muscle atrophy, low or no pulses in the feet, muscle weakness, skin that is cool on touching, cold or numb toes, pain while walking, and sores or ulcers in the legs or feet that don’t heal.

Aortic atherosclerosis:

Aortic atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaque builds up in the inside wall of the aorta. This build-up is known as “hardening of the arteries.”

Oxygen-rich blood is sent from the heart out to the body and to the brain by the main artery known as the aorta. This artery runs from the heart down through the stomach area. The plaque may cause weakness to the walls of the aorta. Thus the wall might stretch or rupture. Pieces of the plaque may break open, resulting in a blood clot forming. A piece of plaque or a blood clot can travel to other parts of the body and result in blockage of blood flow. It can cause conditions like limb ischemia, stroke, aortic aneurysm, and aortic dissection.


Premature deaths can be prevented by identifying those at the risk of CVDs and ensuring their appropriate treatment. The supply of noncommunicable disease medicines and basic health technologies in every health care facility is very important to ensure that those in need receive prompt counseling and treatment.

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This page was last reviewed and updated by on Sep 28, 2021.