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Developing a Research Agenda to Prevent and Control CVD in Central Appalachia

College of Public Health

Understanding Cardiovascular Diseases: A Fact Sheet

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), also known as “Heart Disease,” is one of the leading causes of adult death. Heart diseases often remain undiagnosed due to absence of typical symptom and diversity of symptoms which can mimic other health conditions.

Common Heart Diseases

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Rhythm disorder
  • Congenital heart defect
  • Heart failure
  • Valvular heart disease

Coronary Artery Disease

Among all cardiac diseases, coronary artery disease is the most common, which is caused by atherosclerosis (plaque in the artery) or hardening of the blood vessel. This atherosclerosis usually remains undiscovered until it is big enough to block the blood supply. Cholesterol or other substances slowly accumulate under the inner layer of coronary blood vessels and form plaque eventually interrupting the blood supply to the heart. When a blockage happens, less blood gets to the heart and therefore less oxygen is available to the heart muscle. Over time this leads to heart attack.

Risk Factors

  • Age: Aging increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sex: Pre-menopausal female has a lower rate of coronary artery disease due to their body estrogen production. After menopause or a hysterectomy female are equally at risk as male.
  • Family history of heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol level
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diet
  • Stress 


  • Chest pain (Angina): The patient typically presents with a squeezing, discomfort, obstructive pain or heaviness in the chest. Pain usually occurs in the central chest which may radiate to the jaw, arm, or back. People sometimes confuse cardiac pain with indigestion, as both present with pain in the middle of the chest. Angina has a close relationship with exercise. If chest pain worsens with exertion and lessens after resting, it is more likely angina. If you are getting tired or having chest pain after doing a little work which you were not used to, you should contact your physician.
  • Numbness in arm or leg: If the atherosclerotic plaque impairs the blood supply of an arm or leg, patients may feel numbness. In some cases, exertional chest pain and numbness is the early sign of coronary artery disease.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating: During an acute attack, there is usually profuse sweating. In some patients sweating and discomfort are the only sign of heart attack.
  • Nausea: An acute attack is also associated with nausea and vomiting that is another reason for confusing coronary artery disease with indigestion.

Heart Failure

According to the American Heart Association, heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs for blood and oxygen.


  • Shortness of breath: Being out of breath from effort and/or difficulty breathing lying down are signs of heart failure. Sometimes patients wake up in the night with trouble breathing.
  • Edema: Swelling of the leg or ankle may present in heart failure.

Valvular Heart Disease

This arises when one of the four valves that direct the flow of blood to the heart and body becomes damaged.


  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fainting.

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is present at birth. In severe cases, problems usually appear soon after birth. In less severe cases, adults deal with some of the same symptoms seen in other heart diseases.

Risk factors

  • Genetics: Some congenital heart diseases run in the family.
  • Virus: Some viral infections during pregnancy increase the risk of congenital heart disease.
  • Alcohol use during pregnancy: Drinking while pregnant may cause fetal heart problems.
  • Certain medications: Certain medications, taken during the first three months of pregnancy, can cause congenital heart defect.
  • Smoking: Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of congenital heart defects.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar increases the risk of congenital heart defects. Maintaining healthy sugar levels during pregnancy is important.  


  • Blue skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Feeding difficulty
  • Poor weight gain
  • Fatigability after mild work
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent infection
  • Swelling of leg       

Rhythm Disorder

Rhythm problem refers to abnormal heart beat. That may include Fast beating, slow beating, irregular beating.


  • Palpitation
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

Other Causes of Heart Disease

Other heart diseases include infection, disease of cardiac muscle, and cardiac arrest.


Reducing risk factors can prevent cardiac diseases. Although age, sex, and family history, cannot be changed, other factors can be. Certain lifestyle changes can prevent the plaque that causes hardening of arteries, which can lead to coronary artery disease (CAD) or ischemic heart disease. Lifestyle changes may save thousands of lives because CAD is the most common cause of death.
Lifestyle changes to make

  • Stop tobacco use
  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Take high blood pressure and diabetes medications regularly
  • Manage stress
  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol
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