Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases are a group of diseases of the heart and of blood vessels, which include:

  • Coronary heart disease (including angina pectoris and myocardial infarction) – the disease of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle;
  • Cerebrovascular disease – the disease of blood vessels supplying blood to the brain;
  • Peripheral arterial disease – the disease of blood vessels that supply blood to arms and legs;
  • Rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves as a result of rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria;
  • Congenital heart disease – malformations of the heart structure, occurring from birth;
  • Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – the formation of blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and spread to the heart and lungs;
  • Cardiomyopathies – damage to the heart muscle, frequently caused by other heart diseases;
  • Endocarditis, myocarditis and pericarditis – inflammation of heart layers;
  • Arterial hypertension – chronic blood pressure elevation;
  • Heart failure – inability of the heart to perform its physiological functions.

Cardiovascular diseases occupy one of the leading places in the structure of mortality. Genetic predisposition playing a significant role in their development, although very often other causes are the source. There is a group of factors that increase the probability of developing the disease. These factors are called risk factors. They are many, but some of them are the most important.

Risk factors for cardiovascular diseases can be divided into two main groups: those that can be changed and those that cannot be changed. First, we will focus on the unchangeable risk factors.

Unchangeable risk factors for cardiovascular diseases

  1. Firstly, one of these factors is the gender. The risk of cardiovascular diseases in men aged 35-70 years is 30% higher than in women, but with age, the difference is gradually reduced and the risk for men and women becomes equal. As a side note, the risk of cardiovascular diseases increases during menopause.
  2. Secondly, another important risk factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases is age. It is estimated that 87 % of people who die of coronary heart disease are over 60 years old. At the same time, after the age of 55, the risk of stroke doubles every decade. Several explanations have been proposed to explain why age increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. One of them is related to serum cholesterol levels. Serum total cholesterol increases along with age. In men, this increase becomes significant around the age of 45-50 years. In women, the increase continues until the age of 60-65 years. Ageing is also associated with changes in the mechanical and structural properties of vessel walls, leading to the loss of arterial elasticity, which can subsequently lead to coronary heart disease.
  3. Bad heredity may also cause cardiovascular system diseases. Heart diseases in your immediate family members speak about a higher probability for you to develop the same diseases.
  4. The geographic region of residence is a statistically proven factor risk for cardiovascular diseases: for example, there is a high incidence of stroke and coronary heart disease in Russia and Eastern Europe. The incidence of cardiovascular diseases is higher in Northern and Western Asia, as well as in African countries.
  5. Diabetes mellitus can be a direct threat to the development of cardiovascular diseases. Diabetes is now counted among the diseases affecting the target organs. A range of standard signs of diabetes exists: thirst, dry mouth, large fluid intake, frequent (painless) and abundant urination.
  6. hronic diseases of the target-organs (heart, brain, kidneys, retina, peripheral vessels) also significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular accidents.

Changeable risk factors for cardiovascular diseases

The removal of these risk factors directly depends on you!

  1. Smoking is the main and perhaps the most common risk factor, from which you can secure yourself. Besides the fact that smoking increases the risk of heart diseases by 1.5 times, it also increases the risk of atherosclerosis, of occlusive vascular diseases and cancer. Smoking is also the cause of increased levels of blood cholesterol, and those changes are affecting the heart in the first place.
  2. Increased systolic blood pressure (the upper value) increases the risk of stroke and affects the blood vessels in all organs, impairing their function.
  3. Increased diastolic blood pressure (the lower value) leads to the thickening of the heart muscle (cardiac hypertrophy) and an increased risk of heart failure.
  4. Increased levels of total cholesterol and the ratio between the different fractions of cholesterol are important changeable risk factors for cardiovascular system diseases.
  5. An important role is further played by alimentation, or so-called dietary preferences. The correct attitude towards alimentation has to be formed in childhood. Unfortunately, nowadays, our diet is dominated by an excessive amount of carbohydrates, by the use of “wrong”, harmful products, such as sausages, smoked meats, sugar, cakes, fizzy drinks. Our health is adversely affected by overeating, consuming large amounts of fatty foods, and by lack of fibers entering the body with fruits and vegetables. The main goal of nutrition is the reduction of cholesterol in the organism, as well as the reduction of low-density lipoproteins (or saturated fats). Vegetable oils, rich in unsaturated fatty acids, have to be included in the daily diet. It is also recommended to reduce the intake of salt, especially in arterial hypertension and heart failure. It should be remembered that a large amount of salt is also contained in smoked meats, canned goods, pickles, potato chips and salted nuts. The diet should be balanced in the calorie content as well.
  6. Obesity is the second risk factor that every person is able to prevent and resolve. Obesity is accompanied by disorders of the carbohydrate metabolism and by the reduction of the “good” cholesterol.
  7. Alcohol abuse is another changeable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. At the present level of alcohol consumption, the “average” man is “suddenly” confronted with a variety of ailments at the age of about 30 years. It is not only about cardiovascular diseases, but also about disturbances of the stomach, liver, nervous disorders, and disorders of sexual nature. However, some diseases may even cause surprise: after all, the effect of alcohol is universal, affecting all organs and systems of the human body.
  8. Hypodynamy is an important risk factor for the cardiovascular system. Physical inactivity is a disturbance of the body functions by limiting physical activity and reducing the force of muscle contraction. The prevalence of physical inactivity is increasing due to urbanization, automation and mechanization of labor, as well as the increasing role of communication means. Decrease in physical activity, sedentary and inactive lifestyles adversely affect the health state. It is worth remembering that this is an avoidable factor and daily aerobic exercise of light or moderate intensity for 20 minutes may extend life.
  9. Stress, especially if frequent and long-lasting, has a negative impact not only on one’s psychological state, but also on physical health. It is the main risk factor for the manifestation and exacerbation of many diseases. The most common ones are cardiovascular diseases (myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, arterial hypertension), diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (gastritis, gastric ulcer and duodenal ulcer) and low immunity.

According to studies performed on cardiovascular diseases, it was concluded that a number of factors contributes to their prevention. Protective factors include physical activity, HDL-cholesterol (“good” cholesterol), estrogen and alcohol in moderate quantities. Alcohol consumed with moderation (a glass of red wine for women and two for men) may be associated with a reduced cardiovascular risk. However, alcohol is not recommended for health benefits, especially as it increases blood pressure, triglycerides, affecting the liver, has a high caloric content, may favor the occurrence of heart failure, stroke and even some types of cancer. Physical activity practiced regularly, depending on individual abilities, will decrease the risk of heart attack and strokes. A healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, chicken and fish consumption (it is recommended to eat fish 1-2 times a week, especially oceanic fish, because the increased content of polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 provides a cardioprotective effect), avoiding the use of salt and animal fats – all these are proven to reduce the cardiovascular risk.

A program to modify cardiovascular risk factors should aim to reduce the risk factors and develop a plan, including healthy eating, physical activity, and where necessary, appropriate therapy.

Most of the cases of cardiovascular diseases are associated with the lifestyle and psycho-physiological factors that patients themselves are able to change and control. Reducing the number of risk factors convincingly demonstrates the reduction of morbidity and mortality in patients with cardiovascular diseases.

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