Cardiovascular Disease

Clinical Guidelines

American Heart Association Clinical Guidelines 


What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels throughout the body, most commonly comprised of heart disease, vascular diseases of the brain and kidney, and peripheral artery disease. Atherosclerosis is a common component of cardiovascular disease. It is commonly referred to as hardening of the arteries and is caused by the formation of plaques within the arteries that ultimately result in a thickening of the artery wall. As the wall thickens, the artery becomes narrower, decreasing the amount of blood that can travel to vital organs. Blood clots can sometimes form on or around a plaque, which can block the artery. The blood clot or plaque can also dislodge and travel to the heart resulting in a heart attack, or to the brain resulting in a stroke.

Why is it important?

Cardiovascular disease has been and continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States and other developed countries. Research has revealed that coronary heart disease, a type of cardiovascular disease affecting the blood vessels of the heart, is extremely common and a highly lethal disease that attacks one out of every five people before the age of 60. Sudden death is a prominent feature of this disease. Occasionally, this disease can have no apparent symptoms prior to sudden death. Because of the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, a preventive approach is necessary to allow for modification of those risk factors that directly contribute to the disease prior to the appearance of symptoms.

Risk factors

Risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease include some non-modifiable factors such as age, gender and family history. Other risk factors that can modified through lifestyle changes or medical intervention include smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, altered cholesterol levels and lack of physical activity.


Cardiovascular disease prevention should begin at an early age targeting multiple risk factors before disease progression becomes noticeable. Early education on the effects of smoking, poor eating habits, uncontrolled blood sugar, weight and cholesterol levels are important. Additionally, implementation of physical activity into daily life should be introduced at an early age.

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