This post is all about Cardiovascular Disease and Hypertension and has been selected from a lesson from our brand new Hypertension course.
In this lesson we’ll be looking at cardiovascular disease, its effects on the population and the health service, and its relationship to hypertension.
Cardiovascular disease or CVD is a general term for conditions affecting the cardiovascular system (that’s the heart and blood vessels).
It’s usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries and an increased risk of blood clots. And it can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes.
CVD is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK, but it can often largely be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle.
Types of Cardiovascular Disease
There are many different types of CVD though the four main types are:
- Coronary heart disease
- Strokes and transient ischaemic attacks or TIAs
- Peripheral arterial disease
- Aortic disease
Let’s have a quick reminder of what each of these are:
Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked or reduced. This puts an increased strain on the heart, and can lead to:
- heart attacks – (where the blood flow to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked)
- angina – (which is chest pain caused by restricted blood flow to the heart muscle)
- or heart failure – (where the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly)
Strokes and TIAs
Another type of CVD is a stroke, where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This can cause brain damage and possibly death.
A transient ischaemic attack (also called a TIA or “mini-stroke”) is similar, but the blood flow to the brain is only temporarily disrupted.
Peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral arterial disease occurs when there’s a blockage in the arteries to the limbs, usually the legs.
This can cause various unpleasant or debilitating symptoms including leg pain when walking, numbness or weakness in the legs, and persistent ulcers on the feet and legs.
Aortic diseases are a group of conditions affecting the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body, which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body, shown here as the large red artery coming from the top of the heart.
One of most common aortic diseases is an aortic aneurysm, where the aorta becomes weakened and bulges outwards.
This doesn’t usually have any symptoms, but there’s a chance it could burst and cause life-threatening bleeding.
Causes of Cardiovascular Disease
The exact cause of CVD isn’t clear, but there are lots of “risk factors” that can increase your chances of getting it.
The more risk factors a person has, the greater their chances of developing CVD.
The main risk factors for Cardiovascular Disease are
- Hypertension (This is the biggest risk factor)
- High Cholesterol
- Family history of CVD
- Ethnic Background
Other risk factors include being over the age of 50, being male, unhealthy diet, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Effects of CVD on the population and the NHS
So what are the effects of hypertension and cardiovascular disease on the population and on the health service?
CVD causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK; that’s more than 160,000 deaths each year – or one death every three minutes.
There are 7.6 million people living with Cardiovascular disease in the UK which places a financial burden of approximately £9 billion per year on the NHS.
CVD is also a key driver of health inequalities accounting for around 25% of the life expectancy gap between rich and poor populations in England. And as mentioned earlier, hypertension is the biggest risk factor for CVD and is actually one of the top five risk factors for all premature death and disability. An estimated 5.5 million people have undiagnosed hypertension across England alone.
The NHS Long Term Plan commits the NHS to reducing morbidity and mortality due to Cardiovascular Disease, and specifically states that community pharmacy, in collaboration with other providers, will provide opportunities for the public to check on their health, for example through hypertension tests.
This lesson is part of an online course for pharmacists who wish to offer the Hypertension Case Finding Service in their community pharmacy.