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About cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the heart, veins and arteries. Many people think that cardiovascular disease is more likely to be associated with men. However, cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in women.

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What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the general term used to include both diseases of the heart (cardio) and the blood vessels (veins and arteries). Most cardiovascular diseases involve the heart and the arteries. Some, such as peripheral vascular disease and stroke involve blood supply to other parts of the body, such as the legs and brain. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) involves a clot in the deep veins of the body.

Types of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease tends to develop over time. The following is a list of more common cardiovascular diseases and conditions with a brief explanation of what they are.

Aneurysm An aneurysm is a widening or bulge in an artery that can burst.
Angina Angina is a temporary discomfort or chest pain caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart. Angina can be a symptom of heart disease.
Atherosclerosis Atherosclerosis is the gradual build-up of fatty deposits, called ‘plaque’, on the inner walls of the arteries. Atherosclerosis develops over time. It causes arteries to narrow resulting in reduced blood flow to the heart and other organs. It can cause angina, heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Coronary heart disease When atherosclerosis affects the arteries of the heart it is called coronary heart disease.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism Some veins are close to our skin surface and called ‘superficial’ veins. Others are deep in the body. DVT occurs when a clot forms in a vein, which is deep in the body. DVT can occur without a history of cardiovascular disease. Portions of the clot can become detached, giving rise to pulmonary embolism (a clot in the veins of the lung).
Heart attack A heart attack occurs when an artery to the heart becomes completely blocked and blood flow is stopped to part of the heart muscle.
High blood pressure (hypertension) While blood pressure can fluctuate, having consistently high blood pressure can damage arteries, the heart and other organs. High blood pressure also adds to the risk of having a heart attack and stroke.
Stroke A stroke can occur if an artery to the brain becomes blocked and disrupts or reduces the blood supply to the brain. It can also occur if a brain (cerebral) vessel bleeds, causing bleeding in the brain (cerebral haemorrhage). Damage may occur to the part of the brain where the blood supply is reduced or the haemorrhage occurs, causing symptoms such as loss of consciousness, weakness, numbness, paralysis, dizziness, loss of balance, blurred or decreased vision, and difficulty in speaking or understanding.

Signs and symptoms of CVD

Some markers of cardiovascular disease are silent and build up over time. These include high blood pressure and high total cholesterol. You may not be aware of these so it’s important to have these kn regularly by your doctor. Knowing the numbers of key health measures can help you make changes for your current and future health. Learn more here.

Other symptoms are more noticeable and may be the signs of a heart attack or stroke, such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, paralyses of the face, sweating and nausea. Read more about all symptoms of heart attack & stroke in women here.

Heart attack story video thumb

A real-life account

In this video, hear from a woman who lived through a 'cardiac event', and the steps she took to improve her health.

Further information about CVD can be found at:

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2021.

Last updated: 07 October 2021 | Last reviewed: 08 February 2021

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