What are cardiovascular diseases?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a disease that involves the heart or blood vessels. Many people suffer or die from CVDs worldwide, in fact CVDs are the leading cause of death worldwide. In 2013, 17.3 million (31.5%) people died from CVDs. The most common forms of CVD are heart attack (myocardial infarction, chest pain (angina pectoris), ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke, and peripheral artery disease. Most CVDs are caused by a complex and slowly progressing process named atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is characterized by plaques that builds up inside the arteries caused by chronic inflammation. This plaque consist of immune cells, and debris, containing cholesterol, calcium and fibrous connective tissue. When time passes, the plaque may intrude into the lumen of the artery wall, restricting its blood flow. This limits the blood flow to vital organs. Some plaques are prone to rupture. After rupture, plaque material can cause immediate blockage of a downstream blood vessel.
What are risk factors of cardiovascular disease?
CVD is caused by a combination of many risk factors. Some risk factors are uncontrollable (non-modifiable risk factors, other can be controlled (modifiable risk factors).
Age is one of the most important non-modifiable risk factors of developing CVD. Although the process of atherosclerosis starts at young age, it takes several decades before symptoms of atherosclerosis occur. 82% of the people who die from due to CVD are 65 years or older. Some individuals are more prone to develop atherosclerosis because of genetic mutations, while males are also at greater risk of developing CVD than females.
It is estimated that 90% CVD can be prevented by reducing modifiable risk factors. A well described modifiable risk factor is body weight. The higher the body weight, the higher the chance of developing CVD. Other modifiable risk factors are physical inactivity, smoking, high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes and increased levels of cholesterol. It is of utmost importance, and it is the basis of any (preventive) treatment strategy to get a healthy lifestyle (i.e. reduce your modifiable risk factors).