Understanding Your Risk for Heart Disease
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular diseases are diseases of the heart (cardiac muscle) or blood vessels (vasculature). However, in practice, when doctors use the term ‘cardiovascular disease’ they usually mean diseases of the heart or blood vessels that are caused by atheroma.
What is atheroma (atherosclerosis)?
Atheromas are like small fatty lumps that develop within the inside lining of arteries (blood vessels). Atheroma is also known as ‘atherosclerosis’ and ‘hardening of the arteries’. Atheromas make an artery narrower. This can reduce the blood flow through the artery. Sometimes, an atheroma may develop a tiny ‘crack’ on the inside surface of the blood vessel. This may trigger a blood clot (thrombosis) to form over the patch of atheroma which may completely block the blood flow. Depending on the artery affected, a blood clot that forms on a patch of atheroma can cause a heart attack, a stroke, or other serious problems.
What are the cardiovascular diseases caused by atheroma?
The term ‘heart disease’, or ‘coronary heart disease’, is used for conditions caused by narrowing of one or more of the coronary (heart) arteries by atheroma. The problems this can cause include angina, heart attack, and heart failure. Heart disease is common in people over 50.
Cerebrovascular disease – stroke and TIA
Cerebrovascular disease means a disease of the arteries in the brain. The problems this can cause include a stroke and a TIA (transient ischaemic attack). A stroke means that part of the brain is suddenly damaged. The common cause of a stroke is due to an artery in the brain which becomes blocked by a blood clot (thrombus). The blood clot usually forms over some atheroma. A TIA is a disorder caused by temporary lack of blood supply to a part of the brain.
Peripheral vascular disease
Peripheral vascular disease is narrowing due to atheroma that affects arteries other than arteries in the heart or brain. The arteries that take blood to the legs are the most commonly affected.
Risk factors for developing atheroma
Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed:
Treatable or partly treatable risk factors:
Fixed risk factors – ones that you cannot alter: