Today is World Heart Day, a day established by the World Heart Federation in 2000 with the aim of informing people around the world that cardiovascular disease and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death.
Every year, the World Heart Foundation hosts events, such as the World Heart Summit, which bring together leaders and innovators in cardiovascular health from around the world who share and discuss what is next for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
According to the British Heart Foundation:
- There are around 550 million people living with heart and circulatory diseases across the world and globally one in 14 people are living with a heart or circulatory disease.
- The most common conditions are coronary (ischaemic) heart disease, peripheral arterial (vascular) disease, stroke, and atrial fibrillation.
- Each year around 60 million people across the world develop a heart or circulatory disease.
- Heart and circulatory diseases cause around one in three deaths globally and are the world’s biggest killers.
- The proportion of deaths attributed to heart and circulatory diseases has been rising and is projected to rise even more – to more than 23 million by 2030 and more than 34 million by 2060.
What is cardiovascular disease?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term used for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.
There are several risk factors for CVD, which include a combination of socio-economic, behavioural, and environmental risk factors, including:
- Family history of heart disease
- Ethnic background
- Sex (men are more likely to get CVD than women)
- Age (older people are more likely to get CVD than younger people)
- High blood pressure
- Unhealthy diet
- High cholesterol
- Air pollution
- Tobacco use
- Kidney disease
- Physical inactivity
- Harmful use of alcohol
What are the different types of cardiovascular disease?
Coronary heart disease
This is the most common type of CVD. It is a condition caused by narrowed coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This puts an increased strain on the heart and can lead to angina, heart attacks and heart failure.
A heart attack occurs when something cuts off the flow of blood to the heart, this is usually a blood clot. The heart muscle then begins to die as it is deficient in oxygen and nutrients.
Whilst heart attacks are not always fatal, they can still cause lasting damage to the heart.
Strokes and TIAs
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This causes the brain to lose its vital supply of oxygen and nutrients. A transient ischaemic attack is similar, but the blood flow is only temporarily disrupted.
A stroke can be caused either by a blood clot in the arteries, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and bleeds, damaging the brain tissue.
- Arrhythmia – irregular or abnormal heartbeat
- Aortic disease – a disease that causes the aorta to widen or tear
- Cardiomyopathies – diseases of the heart muscle
- Congenital heart disease – problems with the heart or blood vessels that exist at birth
- Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can break loose and travel to the heart and lungs
- Heart failure – when your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be
- Heart valve disease – a disease of the heart valves that keep blood flowing through the heart
- Pericardial disease – inflammation of the thin tissue sac that surrounds the heart
- Rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria
- Vascular disease – any condition that affects your circulatory system
- Peripheral vascular disease – a disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs
- Cerebrovascular disease – a disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain
What are the symptoms of cardiovascular disease?
Often, there are no underlying symptoms of cardiovascular disease, and the first sign may be a heart attack or a stroke.
Symptoms vary based on which condition you have but can include:
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort
- Pain, weakness, or numbness in your legs and/or arms
- Pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, shoulder, jaw and back
- Shortness of breath
- Easily tiring during exercise or activity
- Changes in your heart rhythm
- Very fast or slow heartbeat, palpitations or fluttering in your chest
- Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
- Weakness or fatigue
- Swelling of the hands, legs, ankles or feet
- Skin rashes or unusual spots
- Dry or persistent cough
Symptoms of a heart attack in men
- Intense chest pain
- Pain in the left arm or jaw
- Difficulty breathing
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
Women may have some of the same symptoms as men, but their pain may be more diffused and the pain may not be consistent.
They may also experience unexplained anxiety, nausea, dizziness, palpitations and cold sweats instead of pain, and a heart attack may be preceded by unexplained fatigue.
How is cardiovascular disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis depends on your symptoms. A doctor will obtain your medical and family history, assess your risk factors, and conduct a physical examination. If necessary, further tests and procedures should be undertaken such as blood tests, chest x-rays, or an echocardiogram, for example.
How to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease
According to the World Health Organisation, as many as 80% of all heart attacks and strokes are preventable.
Maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding tobacco, as well as keeping an eye on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels are very important.
Treatment and recovery
There are various treatments for cardiovascular disease, depending on the condition.
Treatment can include lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, and alcohol consumption, taking medication, undergoing medical procedures, including stents and heart valve surgery, and using devices such as pacemakers.
Cardiac and heart disease claims
When it comes to the heart, when mistakes are made the consequences can be devastating. A misdiagnosis or failure to treat a serious heart condition can lead to severe heart damage, a heart attack, or even death.
If you have suffered an injury following negligent cardiac treatment or have concerns that you may have been misdiagnosed, you may be able to bring a claim for compensation.
Find out more
For more information about our Clinical Negligence team and the services we provide, visit our web page here.
For more information about World Heart Day visit The World Heart Federation.
Emma Bhermi, paralegal in our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team, contributed to this article.