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Types of Cardiovascular Diseases


The word "cardiovascular" derives from the Greek root cardio (heart) and the Latin root vascular (vessel). The word "cardiovascular" refers to the heart and all the blood vessels, including the arteries that carry blood from the heart, capillaries that distribute the blood throughout the body, and veins that return the blood to the heart.

The terms "heart disease" and "cardiovascular disease" are often used interchangeably. Heart disease refers to defects in the function of the heart or the coronary blood vessels that directly supply the heart. Heart disease includes irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), racing heartbeat (tachycardia), heart infections, coronary artery disease, and congenital heart defects. Cardiovascular disease is most commonly associated with conditions involving blocked, narrowed or stiffened blood vessels that can lead to chest pain (angina), heart attack, or stroke. Cardiovascular disease reduces the blood flow to the heart, brain or other parts of the body and may cause symptoms such as numbness, pain, weakness or coldness in the legs or arms.

The principal cause of cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This condition develops when plaques of fatty substances build up in the inner walls of arteries. The buildup of plaques is slow, but grows over time. The plaques narrow the blood vessels and make the heart work harder causing high blood pressure (hypertension). When a plaque in a blood vessel ruptures, the blood forms a clot (thrombus) around the plaque material, and the clot may partially obstruct or completely stop blood flow in a blood vessel. The tissues deprived of blood eventually die from lack of oxygen.

Coronary arteries are blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscles. The blockage of a coronary artery (coronary thrombosis) causes a heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction. An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood flow of an artery to the brain is blocked by a clot. The cells of the brain tissue die within a few minutes after a stroke and often result in paralysis and speech impediments. Aneurysms are bulges or weakened sections of the blood vessels that can occur anywhere in the body. The bursting of an aneurysm causes internal bleeding. The rupture of a blood vessel inside the brain is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

Heart failure, peripheral artery disease and cardiac arrest are other common complications of heart disease. Heart failure occurs when the muscles of the heart weaken and the heart cannot pump enough blood. Peripheral artery disease is a condition where the legs or other limbs do not receive enough blood flow. Cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function usually caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart.

Learn more about the Circulatory System

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