Cardiovascular Disease Overview

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

This is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different types of cardiovascular conditions. Cardiovascular (CV) diseases are conditions relating to the damage of different parts of the CV system which includes the heart and blood vessels such as the arteries and veins. A common CV disease is atherosclerosis.

Atherosclerosis (atheroma meaning soft fat, and sclerosis meaning the hardening of fat) is the term used to describe the accumulation of fat which eventually turns into a hard plaque, causing severe problems such as heart attacks and angina. This is due to the narrowing of arteries, meaning there is a smaller space for blood to flow through. However, with simple changes in lifestyle such as doing more exercise, having a balanced diet of enough fruit and vegetables as well as including fibre rich foods such as whole grains and nuts, this condition can be managed.1

What are the different types of Cardiovascular Disease?

Heart Attack

This is caused by a blockage in the arteries where blood cannot reach the heart.  This could be because of several factors such as plaque (fat) buildup in the arteries. Arteries are the largest blood vessels in our body and one of the most important.


Angina is often one of the main cardiovascular conditions where people suffer from chest pain. This is due to less blood being able to reach the heart, again due to plaque buildup in the blood vessels. 


A stroke is caused by restricted blood flow to the brain, resulting in low oxygen in the brain. This is a very serious condition and must be treated as soon as possible.1 

What causes Cardiovascular Disease?

High Blood Pressure

Having high blood pressure for a consistent time damages our blood vessels due to the constant pressure and force of the blood that is flowing through them. This can cause conditions such as heart attacks and angina. You can check your blood pressure using a blood pressure machine. The machine will show you two numbers; the top larger number is the systolic number, which is the pressure at which our heart pushes blood around our body. The bottom lower number is the diastolic pressure, which shows us the pressure in the blood vessels when at rest.


This is a major cause which, with the right changes, can help improve cardiovascular health.  

  • Smoking

The nicotine smoke from cigarettes causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure causing damage to our blood vessels and contributes to plaque accumulation.2,3 

  • Alcohol

Excessive drinking can have negative effects on our blood vessels such as having high blood pressure, which as previously mentioned can have serious effects, if not intervened with and solved on time.

  • Nutrition

Eating a fat based diet is not good for the body. Eating excessive fat in your diet contributes to the fat build up in our blood vessels which leads to atherosclerosis  Remember there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy fats! Unhealthy fats, also known as low density lipids, are the fats that are deposited in our vessels - this means fast food and fried foods. A blood clot as a result of this fat build up could be fatal, as it could block the space from which blood was previously travelling through, and can lead to conditions as previously mentioned. 

  • Lack of exercise

Doing exercise is great for the body as it helps keep the blood pumping around the body to deliver oxygen to deprived regions and helps remove waste and provide vital support to areas that are injured. Regular exercise also keeps your heart rate and blood pressure low, creating a healthy environment for your blood. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.

Family History

In some cases people have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases due to the genes passed down through families. If your brother or father, and mother or sister developed these conditions under the age of 55 and 75 respectively, then it increases the risk for yourself. But don't let these figures scare you. With the right interventions and management you can help decrease the risk such as maintaining a balanced diet and exercising moderately. In some cases, having medications such as statins which help keep cholesterol levels (fat) low can help eliminate the risk of fat build up in our blood vessels, however, you should only use them if they are prescribed to you by a general practitioner.4

Ethnic Background

People with a South Asian and an African/Caribbean background have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and have a higher chance of developing risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension. This could be due to genetics. 


  1. Cardiovascular disease. NhsUk 2017. (accessed March 15, 2022).
  2. Smoking n.d. (accessed March 15, 2022).
  3. Lee J-E, Cooke JP. The role of nicotine in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis 2011;215:281–3.
  4. Family history n.d.  (accessed March 15, 2022). 

Mansi Patel

Bachelor of Science - BS, Biomedical Sciences, De Montfort University, England
I enjoy making science more accessible to those with non-scientific backgrounds, and this internship has given me the opportunity to do so. I am also a co-founder of a university career chat series. I enjoy spending my free time with family and friends, especially after all of these lockdowns. Cardiovascular Science is a particular interest of mine, and I find it fascinating. I really hope you enjoy reading my articles! presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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