Cardiovascular diseases

Although heart attacks and strokes are major killers in all parts of the world, 80% of premature deaths from these causes could be avoided by controlling the main risk factors: tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

Every year, an estimated 17 million people globally die of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), particularly heart attacks and strokes. CVDs occur almost equally in men and women. By 2010 CVD are estimated to have become the leading cause of death in developing countries, as well as developed ones.

Low- and middle-income countries are more exposed to CVD risk factors, and their populations have less access to preventive efforts than people in high-income countries. Thus, CVD affect these countries disproportionately: over 80% of CVD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Definition of cardiovascular diseases

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

  • coronary heart disease: disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle;
  • cerebrovascular disease: disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain;
  • peripheral arterial disease: disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs;
  • rheumatic heart disease: damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria;
  • congenital heart disease: malformations of heart structure existing at birth;
  • deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.

Heart attacks and strokes are usually acute events and are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain. The most common reason is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels. Strokes can be caused by bleeding from a blood vessel in the brain or by blood clots.