The World Health Organization (WHO) has updated its fact sheet on Cardiovascular Diseases (CVDs).
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and they include:
- coronary heart disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle;
- cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain;
- peripheral arterial disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs;
- rheumatic heart disease* – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria;
- congenital heart disease – malformations of heart structure existing at birth;
- deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.
*Rheumatic heart disease is caused by damage to the heart valves and heart muscle from the inflammation and scarring caused by rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever is caused by an abnormal response of the body to infection with streptococcal bacteria, which usually begins as a sore throat or tonsillitis in children.
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.
Symptoms of heart attacks and stroke
Often, there are no symptoms of the underlying disease of the blood vessels.
A heart attack or stroke may be the first warning of underlying disease. Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- pain or discomfort in the centre of the chest;
- pain or discomfort in the arms, the left shoulder, elbows, jaw, or back.
In addition the person may experience difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath; feeling sick or vomiting; feeling light-headed or faint; breaking into a cold sweat; and becoming pale. Women are more likely to have shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
The most common symptom of a stroke is sudden weakness of the face, arm, or leg, most often on one side of the body. Other symptoms include sudden onset of:
- numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
- confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech;
- difficulty seeing with one or both eyes;
- difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination;
- severe headache with no known cause; and
- fainting or unconsciousness.
People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care immediately.
Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease
- Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease include: shortness of breath, fatigue, irregular heart beats, chest pain and fainting.
- Symptoms of rheumatic fever include: fever, pain and swelling of the joints, nausea, stomach cramps and vomiting.
Prevention and control of CVDs
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.
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, treatment with the following medications are necessary:
- angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
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.
Link to the updated fact sheet:
Link to WHO’s Global Action Plan for the prevention ad control of Noncommunicable diseases 2013-2020 (English) [PDF]:
Link to WHO’s question and answer page ‘What can I do to avoid a heart attack or stroke?’:
Link to WHO health topic Cardiovascular disease:
Link to WHO document ‘Avoiding Heart Attacks and Strokes- Don’t be a victim, protect yourself’ (English) [PDF]:
Link to WHO technical package ‘HEARTS’ for cardiovascular disease management in primary care settings (English) [PDF]: