What Is the Most Common Cause of CVD?

Medically Reviewed on 6/1/2022
Cardiovascular disease (CVD)
Learn the most common causes and risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not a single disorder; instead, it is an umbrella word used to represent a variety of heart and blood vessel-related disorders. The terms heart and blood vessel disease or heart disease and CVD are used interchangeably.

In the United States, about 659,000 individuals die from heart disease each year. It is the top cause of mortality for men and women alike, accounting for one out of every four fatalities.

4 most common causes of CVD

The most common causes of cardiovascular disease (CVD) include:

  1. Hypertension: High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, having a heart attack, or having a stroke. As blood pressure increases, the walls of the blood vessels get damaged, which eventually increases the risk of CVD.
  2. Abnormal cholesterol levels: Cholesterol is a type of lipid present in the blood. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol deposits on the walls of the blood vessels and hardens them; this is known as atherosclerosis. With the increase in cholesterol levels, your arteries narrow and hinder blood flow. The narrowing can affect the arteries supplying blood to the heart called coronary arteries. This results in reduced oxygen and nutrient supply to the heart and an increased risk of a heart attack.
  3. Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic disease in which your blood sugar levels grow abnormally high. Heart issues are the major cause of mortality among people with diabetes, particularly those with type II diabetes. High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels, increasing their likelihood of narrowing. According to the American Heart Association, 65 percent of individuals with diabetes die from CVD.
  4. Smoking: Smoking cigarettes or tobacco increases your risk of heart disease. Smoking increases heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood pressure, and can cause irregular pulse, all of which makes your heart work harder. Tobacco contains toxic chemicals that can damage and constrict your blood vessels. Although nicotine is the primary active ingredient in cigarette smoke, other chemicals and substances such as tar and carbon monoxide are also harmful to your heart in a variety of ways.

Risk factors for CVD

  • Obesity:
    • Obesity and being overweight increase your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for CVD.
    • You are more likely to get CVD if you:
      • Have a body mass index of 25 or above.
      • Have a waist measurement of 94 cm (about 37 inches) or more in men and a waist measurement of 80 cm (about 31.5 inches) or more in women.
  • Physical inactivity:
    • If you don't exercise regularly, you're more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and be overweight. All of them are CVD risk factors.
    • Regular exercise will help keep your heart healthy. Exercise, when paired with a good diet, can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Stress:
    • Stress is thought to be a risk factor for heart disease. Stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure, which increases your heart's requirement for oxygen. This increased demand for oxygen can cause ischemia (inadequate oxygen-rich blood reaching the tissues) or angina (chest pain).
    • Stress hormones such as adrenaline are produced during times of stress. These hormones increase blood pressure and heart rate, which in return increase your CVD risk. The number of clotting factors increased in the circulation during stress increases the risk of heart attacks.
  • Alcohol consumption:
    • Excessive intake of alcohol cause hypertension and dyslipidemia, which in turn increase the risk of heart diseases such as irregular heartbeats, cardiomyopathy, and stroke. Alcohol is high in calories that add extra fat to the body, which is one of the most common risk factors for CVD.
  • Hereditary:
    • Heart disease often runs in families. If your parents or siblings had a heart or circulation problem before the age of 55 years, you are more likely to get heart disease. Risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity can be handed on from generation to generation.
  • Age:
    • The risk of heart disease increases with age. People older than 65 years account for about four out of every five deaths from heart disease. Our hearts tend to weaken as we get older. The heart's walls may thicken, and arteries may stiffen and harden, reducing the heart's ability to pump blood to the body tissues. The risk of CVD increases with age as a result of these changes.
    • Women are normally protected from heart disease due to their sex hormones (estrogen) until menopause when their risk increases.


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11 symptoms of CVD

Common symptoms of cardiovascular disease include:

  1. Chest pain
  2. Nausea and vomiting
  3. Fatigue
  4. Dizziness or light-headedness
  5. Irregular heartbeats
  6. Shortness of breath
  7. Wheezing
  8. Swelling over the feet
  9. Excessive sweating
  10. Anxiety
  11. Loss of consciousness or fainting

What are the types of CVD?

There are several forms of cardiac disease. Some types can be classified based on how they affect the structure or function of your heart.

  1. Coronary artery disease:
  2. Heart failure:
    • Heart failure is a dangerous condition that occurs when the heart is injured or weak. Heart attacks and high blood pressure are the two most common causes of heart failure.
    • There is no cure, but early detection, lifestyle adjustments, and medication can help individuals live an active life, avoid frequent hospitalization, and live longer.
  3. Arrhythmias:
    • Arrhythmias are heart rhythm disorders. They are conditions that cause the heart to beat too slow, too fast, or in an unorganized manner. Many people have cardiac rhythm abnormalities that impair blood flow.
    • Arrhythmias come in a variety of forms; some have no symptoms or warning indications, whereas others are abrupt and fatal.
  4. Stroke:
    • A stroke is a brain condition in which the blood flow to the brain is reduced (ischemia) or a blood vessel in the brain ruptures (hemorrhage) causing damage to the brain cells. In the absence of timely treatment, permanent brain damage may occur.
    • Ischemic strokes account for 87 percent of all strokes and occur when a blood artery that carries blood and oxygen to the brain becomes blocked. Without blood and oxygen, portions of the brain might be damaged or die if not treated promptly.
    • Aside from blockages, hemorrhagic strokes can be caused by a vascular malformation or abnormal development of brain blood vessels.
  5. Heart valve abnormalities:
    • Usually, abnormalities in the heart valves are either congenital or caused by infections such as rheumatic heart disease or wear and tear due to persistent hypertension or other factors.
    • Stenosis occurs when the valves of the heart do not open sufficiently to enable blood to circulate properly.
    • Regurgitation occurs when the heart valves fail to seal properly, allowing blood to flow back through.
    • Heart valves, like the arteries in your heart, must function correctly to avoid life-threatening issues.

How to diagnose CVD

The key components of diagnosis include the person’s medical and family histories, risk factors, and physical examination. A variety of laboratory tests and imaging examinations are used to identify cardiovascular disorders.

The following are some of the most popular tests used to identify the cardiovascular disease (CVD):

  • Blood tests:
    • These are used to assess the risk of CVD by measuring the parameters such as cholesterol levels in the blood and HbA1c to know the diabetic control and risk of diabetes.  
    • During a heart attack, heart muscle cells die and release proteins into the circulation. Measuring these proteins will help you estimate the time of occurrence of the heart attack. 
    • Cardiac troponin-T is one of the markers of a heart attack. Other indicators include fibrinogen and PAI-1, as well as high levels of homocysteine, higher asymmetric dimethylarginine, and elevated B-type brain natriuretic peptide.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG):
    • This is a simple and painless test that captures the electrical activity of the heart. The test determines how rapidly the heartbeats and its rhythm. The electrical impulses' intensity and timing as they move through the heart are also visible.
    • An EKG/ECG can help detect a heart attack, arrhythmias, and other conditions.
  • Echocardiogram:
    • This test uses sound waves to generate a moving image of the heart on a monitor. This is another painless examination in which a probe is rolled over the chest. This includes information about the heart's shape, size, workings, valves, and chambers.
    • Echocardiography can be used in conjunction with Doppler to identify locations of inadequate blood flow to the heart. It demonstrates portions of the heart muscle that are not contracting correctly, as well as past heart muscle damage.
  • Chest X-ray:
    • This examination reveals the form and size of the heart, lungs, and main blood veins. This is a test that is rarely utilized in the diagnosis of cardiac problems because it does not give further information beyond echocardiography and other imaging procedures.
  • Coronary angiography and cardiac catheterization:
    • This is both a diagnostic and therapeutic procedure. This is an invasive procedure. To reach the coronary arteries, a dye is injected into the veins. This is accomplished by coronary catheterization.
    • Following that, special imaging tools are used to capture detailed photographs of the heart's blood vessels. This is known as coronary angiography. Coronary angiography is a procedure that finds blockages in the coronary arteries.
    • Cardiac catheterization entails inserting a thin, flexible tube known as a catheter into blood arteries in the arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck. The tube is guided by imaging until it reaches the heart.

What are the treatment options for CVD?

Cardiovascular disease can be treated in a variety of ways, and it depends on the type and severity of the disease.

  • The first, and most important for your long-term health, are lifestyle changes. Regular exercise, a nutritious diet, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol use are all necessary.
  • Your doctor prescribes you drugs to help your heart function. Medications may treat hypertension, reduce cholesterol, and thin your blood to make it easier to circulate through your blood vessels.
  • Surgery is an option for opening or unblocking blocked arteries, reducing stress on your heart and circulation system.

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Medically Reviewed on 6/1/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Know Your Risk for Heart Disease: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm

Heart Disease and Stroke: https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/heart-disease-and-stroke

Types of Cardiovascular Disease: https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/cardiovascular/heart_disease/types_of_cv.htm