Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease includes coronary artery diseases (CAD) such as angina and myocardial infarction (commonly known as a heart attack). Other CVDs include stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmia, congenital heart disease, valvular heart disease, carditis, aortic aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, thromboembolic disease, and venous thrombosis.
The underlying mechanisms vary depending on the disease. Coronary artery disease, stroke, and peripheral artery disease involve atherosclerosis. This may be caused by high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, lack of exercise, obesity, high blood cholesterol, poor diet, and excessive alcohol consumption, among others. High blood pressure results in 13% of CVD deaths, while tobacco results in 9%, diabetes 6%, lack of exercise 6% and obesity 5%. Rheumatic heart disease may follow untreated strep throat.
It is estimated that 90% of CVD is preventable. Prevention of atherosclerosis involves improving risk factors through: healthy eating, exercise, avoidance of tobacco smoke and limiting alcohol intake. Treating risk factors, such as high blood pressure, blood lipids and diabetes is also beneficial. Treating people who have strep throat with antibiotics can decrease the risk of rheumatic heart disease. The use of aspirin in people, who are otherwise healthy, is of unclear benefit.
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally. This is true in all areas of the world except Africa. Together they resulted in 17.9 million deaths (32.1%) in 2015, up from 12.3 million (25.8%) in 1990. Deaths, at a given age, from CVD are more common and have been increasing in much of the developing world, while rates have declined in most of the developed world since the 1970s. Coronary artery disease and stroke account for 80% of CVD deaths in males and 75% of CVD deaths in females. Most cardiovascular disease affects older adults. In the United States 11% of people between 20 and 40 have CVD, while 37% between 40 and 60, 71% of people between 60 and 80, and 85% of people over 80 have CVD. The average age of death from coronary artery disease in the developed world is around 80 while it is around 68 in the developing world. Disease onset is typically seven to ten years earlier in men as compared to women.
Population-based studies show that atherosclerosis, the major precursor of cardiovascular disease, begins in childhood. The Pathobiological Determinants of Atherosclerosis in Youth (PDAY) study demonstrated that intimal lesions appear in all the aortas and more than half of the right coronary arteries of youths aged 7–9 years.
This is extremely important considering that 1 in 3 people die from complications attributable to atherosclerosis. In order to stem the tide, education and awareness that cardiovascular disease poses the greatest threat, and measures to prevent or reverse this disease must be taken.
Obesity and diabetes mellitus are often linked to cardiovascular disease, as are a history of chronic kidney disease and hypercholesterolaemia. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the most life-threatening of the diabetic complications and diabetics are two- to four-fold more likely to die of cardiovascular-related causes than nondiabetics.
Screening ECGs (either at rest or with exercise) are not recommended in those without symptoms who are at low risk. This includes those who are young without risk factors. In those at higher risk the evidence for screening with ECGs is inconclusive.
Additionally echocardiography, myocardial perfusion imaging, and cardiac stress testing is not recommended in those at low risk who do not have symptoms.
Some biomarkers may add to conventional cardiovascular risk factors in predicting the risk of future cardiovascular disease; however, the clinical value of some biomarkers is questionable.
The NIH recommends lipid testing in children beginning at the age of 2 if there is a family history of heart disease or lipid problems. It is hoped that early testing will improve lifestyle factors in those at risk such as diet and exercise.
Screening and selection for primary prevention interventions has traditionally been done through absolute risk using a variety of scores (ex. Framingham or Reynolds risk scores). This stratification has separated people who receive the lifestyle interventions (generally lower and intermediate risk) from the medication (higher risk). The number and variety of risk scores available for use has multiplied, but their efficacy according to a 2016 review was unclear due to lack of external validation or impact analysis. Risk stratification models often lack sensitivity for population groups and do not account for the large number of negative events among the intermediate and low risk groups. As a result, future preventative screening appears to shift toward applying prevention according to randomized trial results of each intervention rather than large-scale risk assessment.
Up to 90% of cardiovascular disease may be preventable if established risk factors are avoided. Currently practiced measures to prevent cardiovascular disease include:
Tobacco cessation and avoidance of second-hand smoke. Smoking cessation reduces risk by about 35%.
A low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber diet including whole grains and fruit and vegetables. Dietary interventions are effective in reducing cardiovascular risk factors over a year, but the longer term effects of such interventions and their impact on cardiovascular disease events is uncertain.
At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate exercise per week. Exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation reduces risk of subsequent cardiovascular events by 26%, but there have been few high quality studies of the benefits of exercise training in people with increased cardiovascular risk but no history of cardiovascular disease.
Limit alcohol consumption to the recommended daily limits; People who moderately consume alcoholic drinks have a 25–30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, people who are genetically predisposed to consume less alcohol have lower rates of cardiovascular disease suggesting that alcohol itself may not be protective. Excessive alcohol intake increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and consumption of alcohol is associated with increased risk of a cardiovascular event in the day following consumption.
Lower blood pressure, if elevated. A 10 mmHg reduction in blood pressure reduces risk by about 20%.
Decrease non-HDL cholesterol. Statin treament reduces cardiovascular mortality by about 31%.
Decrease body fat if overweight or obese. The effect of weight loss is often difficult to distinguish from dietary change, and evidence on weight reducing diets is limited. In observational studies of people with severe obesity, weight loss following bariatric surgery is associated with a 46% reduction in cardiovascular risk.
Decrease psychosocial stress. This measure may be complicated by imprecise definitions of what constitute psychosocial interventions. Mental stress–induced myocardial ischemia is associated with an increased risk of heart problems in those with previous heart disease. Severe emotional and physical stress leads to a form of heart dysfunction known as Takotsubo syndrome in some people. Stress, however, plays a relatively minor role in hypertension. Specific relaxation therapies are of unclear benefit.
Most guidelines recommend combining preventive strategies. A 2015 Cochrane Review found some evidence that interventions aiming to reduce more than one cardiovascular risk factor may have beneficial effects on blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference; however, evidence was limited and the authors were unable to draw firm conclusions on the effects on cardiovascular events and mortality. For adults without a known diagnosis of hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, or cardiovascular disease, routine counseling to advise them to improve their diet and increase their physical activity has not been found to significantly alter behavior, and thus is not recommended. Another Cochrane review suggested that simply providing people with a cardiovascular disease risk score may reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors by a small amount compared to usual care. However, there was some uncertainty as to whether providing these scores had any effect on cardiovascular disease events. It is unclear whether or not dental care in those with periodontitis affects their risk of cardiovascular disease.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and death. Evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet may improve cardiovascular outcomes. There is also evidence that a Mediterranean diet may be more effective than a low-fat diet in bringing about long-term changes to cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., lower cholesterol level and blood pressure). The DASH diet (high in nuts, fish, fruits and vegetables, and low in sweets, red meat and fat) has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol and improve metabolic syndrome; but the long-term benefits outside the context of a clinical trial have been questioned. A high fiber diet appears to lower the risk.
Total fat intake does not appear to be an important risk factor. A diet high in trans fatty acids, however, does increase rates of cardiovascular disease. Worldwide, dietary guidelines recommend a reduction in saturated fat. However, there are some questions around the effect of saturated fat on cardiovascular disease in the medical literature. Reviews from 2014 and 2015 did not find evidence of harm from saturated fats. A 2012 Cochrane review found suggestive evidence of a small benefit from replacing dietary saturated fat by unsaturated fat. A 2013 meta analysis concludes that substitution with omega 6 linoleic acid (a type of unsaturated fat) may increase cardiovascular risk. Replacement of saturated fats with carbohydrates does not change or may increase risk. Benefits from replacement with polyunsaturated fat appears greatest; however, supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids (a type of polysaturated fat) does not appear to have an effect.
A 2014 Cochrane review found unclear benefit of recommending a low-salt diet in people with high or normal blood pressure. In those with heart failure, after one study was left out, the rest of the trials show a trend to benefit. Another review of dietary salt concluded that there is strong evidence that high dietary salt intake increases blood pressure and worsens hypertension, and that it increases the number of cardiovascular disease events; both as a result of the increased blood pressure and, quite likely, through other mechanisms. Moderate evidence was found that high salt intake increases cardiovascular mortality; and some evidence was found for an increase in overall mortality, strokes, and left ventricular hypertrophy.
Cardiovascular disease is treatable with initial treatment primarily focused on diet and lifestyle interventions. Influenza may make heart attacks and strokes more likely and therefore influenza vaccination may decrease the chance of cardiovascular events and death in people with heart disease.
Proper CVD management necessitates a focus on MI and stroke cases due to their combined high mortality rate, keeping in mind the cost-effectiveness of any intervention, especially in developing countries with low or middle income levels. Regarding MI, strategies using aspirin, atenolol, streptokinase or tissue plasminogen activator have been compared for quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) in regions of low and middle income. The costs for a single QALY for aspirin, atenolol, streptokinase, and t-PA were $25, $630–$730, and $16,000, respectively. Aspirin, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, and statins used together for secondary CVD prevention in the same regions showed single QALY costs of $300–400.