Cardiovascular Disease: Definition & Causes

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease does not only refer to one condition. It is a class of diseases that affects cardiovascular system (or circulatory system), involving the combined function of the heart, blood, and blood vessels. It includes:



  • Coronary heart disease – a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. The most common cause is the buildup of plaque in the arteries to your heart. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.
  • Congenital heart disease – malformations of heart structure existing at birth. This disease causes more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects.
  • Cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain. The common cause of the disease is It can lead to a stroke.
  • Peripheral arterial disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs. It is caused by The plaque, a substance made up of fat and cholesterol, builds up on the walls of the arteries and blocks the blood supply to the arms and legs.
  • Rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever. This rheumatic fever is a result of an untreated streptococcal infection.
  • Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the major cause of death worldwide. CVDs cause more death (annually) than any other causes. An estimated 17.3 million people died from CVDs in 2008, representing 30% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.3 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.2 million were due to stroke. Over 80% of CVD deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries and occur almost equally in men and women. While in many high-income countries, the cardiovascular mortality rates have declined over the last two decades.

Causes of Cardiovascular Disease


The causes of cardiovascular disease may diverse, but atherosclerosis (which can be triggered by high cholesterol) and hypertension are the most common. Excess cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup which narrows the arteries and blocks the blood flow. As high blood pressure (hypertension) increases the pressure of the blood vessels, the heart must work harder each time it pumps. The heart muscles then begin to thicken and the left ventricle of the heart becomes enlarged. High blood pressure also leads to the thickening of the blood vessel walls. High blood pressure can lead to heart attack or stroke if left untreated.

There are some risk factors that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease, such as: high cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, family history, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use (smoking), and excessive alcohol consumption. Among those factors, behavioral risk factors are responsible for about 80% of coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease. Thus, lifestyle changes play an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease.

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