Cardiovascular health relates to the circulatory system, which comprises the heart and blood vessels and carries nutrients and oxygen to the tissues of the body and removes carbon dioxide and other wastes from them.
Our hearts work beat by beat, second by second for 24 hours a day, never resting. Over the average lifetime, our hearts beats about 2.5 billion times. Knowing that it’s one of the most vital organs keeping us alive, it’s important to treat it like the precious commodity it is.

The number one cause of death among women and men, heart disease claims approximately one million lives per year. Heart disease conditions emerge when plaque, which is made of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood, builds up inside the coronary arteries which supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscles. When plaque builds up, it restricts blood flow to the heart’s chambers, which can lead to heart attack, sudden cardiac death and stroke.

While the statistics are eye-opening, the good news is that simple lifestyle changes can help you avoid, or even slow down, heart-related problems. Making positive changes in one of the following seven areas can have one of the biggest impacts on your heart health. They include: losing weight/maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy, staying active, managing blood pressure, reducing blood sugar, quitting smoking and controlling cholesterol.

When done alone or combined, making positive changes in any of above seven areas can make a drastic difference in your health.

The more you know about your health the more power you have to stay healthy. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and heart. See your healthcare provider at least once per year for regular health screenings that will tell test your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar numbers.



Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. It’s usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atherosclerosis) and an increased risk of blood clots. It can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes.

Cardiovascular disease or problems are some of the greatest overall health problems worldwide. Overall, heart disease, sometimes called coronary artery disease, is the No. 1 killer of both men and women. Heart attack occurs when the heart suddenly stops working which is the major problem related to cardiovascular health. And there are many more conditions that can affect the heart or blood vessels and impact cardiovascular health.

Specific Cardiovascular Problems
Heart disease is a general term that refers to blood circulation problems in the heart. It is the result of atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of the arteries caused by plaque buildup. When a person has heart disease, it increases the risk for other cardiovascular problems occurring, such as heart attack or stroke. A stroke can occur if a blood vessel is blocked by a dislodged piece of plaque of if it suddenly bursts.

Other problems related to cardiovascular health can also develop. For example, some people have an irregular heartbeat that comes and goes, which is known as arrhythmia. When a heart valve is not opening or closing properly, this can cause heart and blood flow problems as well. Heart failure is often a complication of heart disease, and this occurs when the heart cannot keep up with the blood flow that the body needs. In addition, health conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes can all increase the risk for future cardiovascular problems.



Heart disease puts people at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, but the virus can also trigger heart problems. The link between cardiovascular (heart) disease and the COVID-19 virus is an interesting one because it is a double-edged sword.

A significant proportion of the population has underlying cardiovascular disease or cardiac risk factors which put them at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms if infected with the coronavirus. But we are also finding that infection with the coronavirus can put you at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

According to mortality data released by the National Health Commission of China, 35 percent of the patients who died from COVID-19 had a history of high blood pressure and 17 percent had a history of coronary heart disease.

This suggests that underlying cardiovascular disease can increase the severity of symptoms for those who catch the coronavirus, resulting in a higher death rate.

We have learned from other coronavirus and influenza epidemics that viral infections can trigger heart conditions such as acute coronary syndromes, arrhythmias and heart failure. This is due to inflammation – caused by the infection and by the body’s immune response to it – developing in the body as a whole and specifically in the blood vessels which can affect plaques (fatty substances which cause the arteries to harden and narrow, restricting the blood flow) in the arteries, leading to cardiac disease.



Heart disease is also known as cardiovascular disease (CVD) or coronary heart disease (CHD) and includes illnesses associated with the heart and vessels.
There are many types of heart disease, including: hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary heart disease (heart attack), and cerebrovascular disease (stroke).
Heart attacks and strokes CAN be avoided. 80% of them are preventable by avoiding tobacco use, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and regularly checking blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipids.
On average, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol can add 10 years to a person’s lifespan.
Heart attacks occur when oxygen-rich blood is blocked and can’t flow to the heart. The section of the heart devoid of oxygen begins to die if the flow isn’t restored in a sufficient amount of time.
A person who is about to have a heart attack may exhibit these symptoms: pain or discomfort (in chest, arms, shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back), shortness of breath, and nausea or vomiting.
An estimated 17.9 million people died worldwide from cardiovascular diseases in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths.
In 2007, the age-adjusted CVD death rate in men was 300 per 100 000 compared with 212 per 100 000 women.



Cost effective interventions that are feasible to be implemented even in low-resource settings have been identified by WHO for prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases. They include two types of interventions: population-wide and individual, which are recommended to be used in combination to reduce the greatest cardiovascular disease burden.

Examples of population-wide interventions that can be implemented to reduce CVDs include:
comprehensive tobacco control policies
taxation to reduce the intake of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt
building walking and cycle paths to increase physical activity
strategies to reduce harmful use of alcohol
Providing healthy school meals to children.

At the individual level, for prevention of first heart attacks and strokes, individual health-care interventions need to be targeted to those at high total cardiovascular risk or those with single risk factor levels above traditional thresholds, such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia. The former approach is more cost-effective than the latter and has the potential to substantially reduce cardiovascular events. This approach is feasible in primary care in low-resource settings, including by non-physician health workers.

For secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease in those with established disease, including diabetes, treatments with medications are necessary.

The benefits of these interventions are largely independent, but when used together with smoking cessation, nearly 75% of recurrent vascular events may be prevented. Currently there are major gaps in the implementation of these interventions particularly at the primary health care level.

In addition costly surgical operations are sometimes required to treat CVDs. Medical devices are required to treat some CVDs. Such devices include pacemakers, prosthetic valves, and patches for closing holes in the heart.



The most important behavioural risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. The effects of behavioural risk factors may show up in individuals as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and overweight and obesity. These “intermediate risks factors” can be measured in primary care facilities and indicate an increased risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other complications.

Cessation of tobacco use, reduction of salt in the diet, consuming fruits and vegetables, regular physical activity and avoiding harmful use of alcohol have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, drug treatment of diabetes, hypertension and high blood lipids may be necessary to reduce cardiovascular risk and prevent heart attacks and strokes. Health policies that create conducive environments for making healthy choices affordable and available are essential for motivating people to adopt and sustain healthy behaviour.

There are also a number of underlying determinants of CVDs or “the causes of the causes”. These are a reflection of the major forces driving social, economic and cultural change – globalization, urbanization and population ageing. Other determinants of CVDs include poverty, stress and hereditary factors.



CVDs are the number 1 cause of death globally: more people die annually from CVDs than from any other cause.
An estimated 17.7 million people died from CVDs in 2015, representing 31% of all global deaths. Of these deaths, an estimated 7.4 million were due to coronary heart disease and 6.7 million were due to stroke .
Over three quarters of CVD deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries.
Out of the 17 million premature deaths (under the age of 70) due to noncommunicable diseases in 2015, 82% are in low- and middle-income countries, and 37% are caused by CVDs.
Most cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by addressing behavioural risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol using population-wide strategies.
People with cardiovascular disease or who are at high cardiovascular risk (due to the presence of one or more risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidaemia or already established disease) need early detection and management using counselling and medicines, as appropriate.


Published by Stephen Ogweno

a global health practitioner, NCD advocate and mHealth Innovator

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