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World Heart Day: What is cardiovascular disease (CVD) and how to prevent CVD?

Today is a rather special day as we celebrate World Heart Day and create awareness about cardiovascular diseases (CVD). All around the world, the day is marked by numerous events, sports programs, activities, and much more to promote the importance of healthy living and combating CVD.

According to the World Health Federation, cardiovascular disease is the world’s number one killer today, and around 17.9 million people die every year from CVD, including heart disease and stroke. Despite huge leaps in technology and knowledge on CVD, the number of cases remains high in 2020, and much more needs to be done to challenge the trend going forward.

To commemorate World Heart Day, this article by Pacific Prime looks at what CVD is, explores the risk factors associated with CVD, and offers 3 top tips to prevent CVD.

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What is cardiovascular disease?

CVD is a general term used to group conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. In most cases, CVDs are usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (also known as atherosclerosis) or an increased risk of blood clots.

What are the types of CVD?

There are four main types of CVD, as outlined below:

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked or reduced, which puts an increased strain on the heart, and can directly lead to:

  • Angina – Chest pain or discomfort caused by restricted blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Heart attacks – Sudden blockage of blood flow in the artery to the heart muscle.
  • Heart failure – The heart’s inability to pump blood around the body, which can result in other organ failures as blood flow is reduced or insufficient.

Strokes and transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs)

Strokes are common due to stress and unhealthy eating. It is where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, which can cause permanent brain damage. If there isn’t an immediate medical intervention, this could also lead to possible death.

A transient ischaemic attack (commonly referred to as a mini-stroke) is similar to a stroke, with the exception that blood flow from the heart to the brain is only temporarily disrupted.

Peripheral arterial disease (PAD)

PAD is a common circulatory problem and occurs when there’s a blockage or narrowing in the arteries to the lower limbs, usually the legs. The problem is not immediately life-threatening, but the process of atherosclerosis can develop and lead to potentially fatal problems further down the line.

Aortic disease

Aortic diseases are a group of conditions affecting the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, whose function is to carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

One of the most common aortic diseases diagnosed is an aortic aneurysm, where the aorta becomes weakened, loses function, dilates, and bulges outwards. The enlargement of the aorta could cause it to burst due to the pressure coming directly from the heart.

The problem is serious and could cause life-threatening bleeding. Those experiencing symptoms similar to a heart attack or a stroke should call for immediate medical support.

What are the causes or risk factors of CVD?

Within the scientific community, the cause of CVD isn’t clear, but there are several risk factors that lead to CVD. In general, the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing CVD, including any of the above-mentioned diseases.

Below are the main risk factors to be aware of:

Smoking

There is significant evidence from the scientific community and health authorities that smoking and tobacco use is a major risk factor for CVD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop CVD, with evidence showing that smoking increases the risk for CVD by 2 to 4 times. The substances found in cigarettes and the by-products resulting from smoking, like tar and toxins, can damage and narrow blood vessels, as well as cause blood clots.

High blood pressure

High blood pressure is known to the scientific community as one of the most important risk factors for CVD. If your blood pressure is too high, it can damage your blood vessels. Stress can indirectly increase blood pressure when temporary hormones are released in the heart, which causes it to beat faster.

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, natural, fatty substance found in all the cells of the body. It is responsible for making hormones, vitamin D, and other natural components of the body used in digesting food. It is made by the body and regulated. If too much cholesterol is made or taken in from outside the body, it can seep into the bloodstream and combine with other substances to form plaque. This plaque tends to stick to the walls of the vessels and build up, which leads to atherosclerosis.

Diabetes

This is a serious disease in which your blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels are too high. The resulting high levels can damage the blood vessels, thus making them weak and more likely to narrow. The narrowing effect limits blood flow, which combined with high cholesterol could lead to a CVD such as a stroke or heart attack. A high sugar level could also lead to obesity, which is also a risk factor for CVD as mentioned below.

Being obese or overweight

Being obese or overweight further increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes.

You are at an increased risk of developing CVD, if:

  • You’re a man with a waist measurement of 94cm (about 37 inches) or more, or a woman with a waist measurement of 80cm (about 31.5 inches) or more.

If you have difficulties moving due to your weight, it is imperative to seek help from your general practitioner (GP) who can provide recommendations on how to lose weight or get help from a personal trainer at your local gym.

Inactivity

One of the main reasons why individuals develop CVD is because of inactivity. Being inactive means the activity of the smooth muscles (responsible for circulating blood) is lower and the flow of blood is slower. Over time, the build-up of plaque or cholesterol, and high blood pressure could lead to permanent damage and the high risk of developing a CVD.

Other factors associated with developing CVD

The following factors also affect your risk of developing CVD:

  • Age – The older you become, the more likely you are to develop a CVD.
  • Gender – According to Kaiser Permanente, men tend to develop a CVD earlier in life. However, after the age of 65, the risk of heart disease in women is almost the same as in men. Women also share the same risk factors for heart disease as men, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
  • Ethnic background – According to the British Heart Foundation, if you’re South Asian, African, or African Caribbean in the UK, your risk of developing some heart and circulatory diseases can be higher than white Europeans. However, environmental factors, such as diet, activity, and lifestyle can also alter this likelihood.
  • Family history – If your family has a history of developing CVD, your risk of developing it is also increased. Be sure to see your local GP or nurse, who may suggest checking your blood pressure and cholesterol level.

3 tips for preventing cardiovascular disease

There are numerous tips available to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Here are 3 that we have to recommend:

1. Stop smoking

Get help from your local GP who can help by providing useful information, support, advice, and/or make a referral to a specialist if need be.

2. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet

To support a healthy heart, a balanced diet includes:

  • Plenty of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains
  • A variety of healthy, protein-rich foods
  • Unflavoured milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Healthy fats and oils
  • The use of natural herbs and spices
  • Low levels of sugar

The above represents an outline of what’s needed for a balanced diet. You are encouraged to seek the support of a dietician who can personalize your diet and ensure you receive the right level of nutrition.

3. Exercise regularly

Frequent exercise is strongly associated with a lower risk of developing CVD. Try these exercises to boost the health of your heart:

  • Aerobic exercise: This form of exercise helps to improve circulation, resulting in lowered blood pressure and heart rate. Examples include walking, running, swimming, cycling, and dynamic exercises, for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
  • Resistance training: This form of training can help reduce built-up body fat, especially around the smooth muscles and cardiac muscle. Examples include weight training, squatting, and chin-ups.
  • Stretching and flexibility: Performing stretches to all parts of your body directly benefits musculoskeletal health and promotes healthy joints and flexibility. This can help encourage you to be more mobile and reduce your overall risk of developing a CVD.

What Pacific Prime can do for you?

With over 20 years of experience servicing clients all over the world, our team of experts have come to understand the importance of staying healthy. With today being World Heart Day, Pacific Prime would like to take the opportunity to reach out to individuals and remind them to prioritize their health, as well as secure a suitable health insurance plan. As a global intermediary firm, Pacific Prime can compare health insurance from more than 60 reputable health insurance partners and offer the following types of vetted insurance plans:

Contact us for more information! Your health. Your heart. Your Plan.

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Jimmy

Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Jimmy is a content writer who helps simplify insurance for readers interested in international private medical insurance. He is on a mission in Thailand to support locals, expatriates, and businesses by bring the latest news and updates to his Pacific Prime blog articles.

His expert view and wealth of knowledge on insurance can also be found in his blogs for China, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Jimmy