Cardiovascular Health



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On this page you will find:


What is the Cardiovascular system?



Cardiovascular disease and its risks




The cardiovascular system is responsible amongst other things, for delivering oxygen carried in blood from the lungs to different parts of the body and then back to the lungs to be oxygenated.  The vascular system is partly made up of the heart, arteries, veins, capillaries and blood.  The heart is the main pump for pushing oxygenated blood around the body.  Once the blood is oxygenated in the lungs it enters the heart then the heart pumps the blood around the body via the arteries 

Veins then return oxygen poor blood back to the heart which in turn sends the deoxygenated blood to the lungs to be oxygenated and the process starts all over again 




The arteries have strong, muscular, elasticated walls that carry oxygen-rich blood throughout the body to your organs and muscles, the arteries carry blood away from the heart.  When active, muscles need more oxygen, for example when a person is walking or exercising and healthy arteries can adapt to meet this need.

Arteries can become narrowed from a disease called atherosclerosis - this is where the walls of the arteries become damaged due to fatty plaques and scar tissue which limits blood circulation and predisposes a person to thrombosis.  As time goes by the arteries become hardened and they lose their flexibility.  Atherosclerosis in the arteries is known more commonly as hardening of the arteries 





Veins have thinner walls and contain valves.  Deoxygenated blood travels upwards back towards the heart and lungs.  There are two systems of veins at work in the legs.  The deep system and the superficial system.  The deep (nearer the centre of the leg) veins are of a large diameter and are situated close to the bone, surrounded by muscle.  The superficial (nearer the outer surface of the leg) veins are situated in the fat tissue under the skin and at times are visible.  These two systems meet at two junctions, one at the groin and the other behind the knee, and also through a series of connecting veins called perforators


Blood moves and is pushed towards the heart within the venous system because of the hearts residual pumping force.  Breathing as well as movement from the muscles in the calf and foot contributes to moving the blood back up the body towards the heart.  The valves in the veins stop the deoxygenated blood from reversing.  This venous pumping system is often described as the second heart


When valves become defective or weak, blood can pool in veins, and varicose veins, spider veins and chronic venous insufficiency can develop, amongst other things.  Also if blood slows in the venous system then blood clots can form which can lead to valve damage, enlarged veins, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and death





Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease, heart attacks and angina, stroke, kidney disease and peripheral arterial disease of the legs (PAD).  These diseases all affect the body in different ways.  There are numerous risk factors that cause or indicate vascular disease and having one of the risk factors increases the risk of having another


Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed:



Lack of physical activity


An unhealthy diet rich in animal fats/refined sugars

Excess alcohol


Treatable or partly treatable risk factors:


Hypertension (high blood pressure)

High cholesterol blood level

High triglyceride (fat) blood level


Kidney diseases that affect kidney function


Fixed risk factors - ones that you cannot alter:


    A strong family history. This means if you have a father or brother who developed heart disease or a stroke before they were 55, or in a mother or sister before they were 65

Being male

An early menopause in women

    Age. The older you become, the more likely you are to develop Atheroma

Ethnic group. South Asian/African Caribbean



The combined effects of these factors lead to a build-up of atheroma, fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries. In the coronary arteries of the heart, this causes heart attacks and angina. In the arteries of the brain, atheroma and high blood pressure can lead to strokes or transient ischaemic attacks (minor strokes). In the arteries of the kidneys, and small blood vessels that make up the filters of the kidneys, the result is the commonest form of chronic kidney disease that, in turn, increases the risk of heart attacks and may lead to kidney failure. Obesity and physical inactivity may lead to the most prevalent form of diabetes, which, if unrecognized or poorly controlled, itself damages blood vessels and increases the risk of atheroma and therefore other vascular disease.  PAD or peripheral arterial disease in the legs can lead to ulcers, gangrene and amputation as well as severe pain and clots



Some of these vascular diseases can be symptomless in their early stages, but even in their early stages they can be fatal because fatty plaques can break off from the walls of the artery and also clots can form around the plaques which can break free and can cause stroke and heart attack when they reach the heart and brain.  This is why we can call this disease the silent killer in its early stages. 


If a person has atherosclerosis in the legs it is highly likely they will have it in the coronary arteries which in turn cause angina and heart attack.  It is also more likely that they will also have the disease in the carotid artery in the neck which can lead to Transient Ischemic Attacks (mini strokes) and strokes.  Approximately 85% of strokes are caused by atherosclerosis

Taking action to reduce the above mentioned risk factors can make a difference to how fast these diseases progress, or whether they happen at all, and so reduce the risk of vascular disease


Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in the UK.  It causes 200,000 deaths* a year and long-term illness and disability in 4 million people** and is responsible for a fifth of all hospital admissions.  It is the largest single cause of long-term health and disability, impairing the quality of life for many people.  Two out of three people have high cholesterol and it’s estimated 1 in 3 have high blood pressure.  Being aware of our health and being proactive can help us avoid unnecessary cardiovascular disease, a staggering 80-90% of premature cardiovascular disease can be prevented!  Even if someone seems relatively fit they may have underlying problems they are unaware of so it is good to get checked. 


Cardiovascular disease is not age specific, young people can have it too, but it does get worse with age





Venous disease refers to any condition adversely affecting tissue drainage and venous return to heart. It is more common in women, with one factor being increased venous pressures during pregnancy. Obesity is relevant, as is age


Factors leading to thrombosis are - stasis i.e. periods of inactivity, hypercoagubility (blood prone to clotting, i.e. Factor V Leiden), dehydration, injury to the endothelium i.e. vein injury following surgery or Trauma to veins


  *Modelling the UK burden of cardiovascular disease to 2020 - A research report for the Cardio & Vascular coalition & The British Heart Foundation

** Department of Health





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