Cardiovascular Disease (CVD): Symptoms and Causes

The heart needs an adequate blood supply to provide oxygen so that the muscle can contract and pump blood to itself through the coronary arteries and rest of the body.

Updated: August 17, 2020

The heart needs an adequate blood supply to provide oxygen so that the muscle can contract and pump blood to itself through the coronary arteries and rest of the body. The coronary arteries originate from the base of the aorta and then branch out along the surface of the heart. When one or more coronary arteries narrow, the adequate blood supply is not possible to the heart resulting in heart muscle to ache. The symptoms of chest pain or pressure and shortness of breath due to atherosclerotic heart disease (ASHD) or coronary artery disease (CAD) is called angina. When one of the coronary arteries become completely blocked due to a plaque that ruptures and causes a blood clot to form, the blood supply to part of the heart will be stopped. This will result in the death of the heart muscle causing a heart attack or myocardial infarction.

Signs and Symptoms of CVD:

The first signs and symptoms of heart disease may be a heart attack. This can lead to

  • Crushing chest pain or heaviness in the center of the chest with radiation of the pain to the arm or jaw.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Upper abdominal, shoulder, or back pain

Symptoms that occur at rest and waken the patient from sleep is known as unstable angina. It does not respond quickly to nitroglycerin or rest. Heart failure can cause different symptoms such as swelling and fatigue. The symptoms can be different in different groups of people. Women, diabetics, and elderly people may have different kinds of pain such as, overwhelming fatigue and weakness or difficulty performing routine daily activities like walking, climbing steps, or doing any household work. The narrowing of the affected coronary artery increases over time and blood flow to that part of the heart decreases. This makes the symptoms of cardiovascular disease become worse and it may take longer for those symptoms to get better with rest. 

Causes of  CVD:

The main cause of CVD is lifestyle factors that increase the risk of atherosclerosis or narrowing of arteries. Smoking along with diabetes and poorly controlled hypertension (high blood pressure) causes inflammation and irritation of the inner lining of the coronary arteries. Over time, cholesterol in the bloodstream is collected in the inflamed areas resulting in the formation of plaques that grows and narrows the arteries. This can result in decreased blood flow to potentially cause the symptoms of angina.

In some cases, the plaque will be ruptured or break, leading to the formation of a blood clot in the coronary artery. This clot can completely block the artery, preventing oxygen-rich blood from being supplied to the heart muscle. Without the supply of blood that part of the heart muscle begins to die resulting in a myocardial infarction or heart attack.

The affected part of the heart muscles will be replaced by scar tissue, if not treated quickly.  Over time, this scar tissue decreases the heart's ability to pump effectively and efficiently and may lead to ischemic cardiomyopathy.

Heart muscle that lacks adequate blood supply becomes irritable and may not conduct electrical impulses normally leading to abnormal electrical heartbeats including ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation. These are heart arrhythmias, one of the major causes of sudden cardiac death.


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