About cardiovascular disease

Many people think that cardiovascular disease is more likely to be associated with men; however, one type of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, causes more deaths in women than men in Australia. Cardiovascular disease includes diseases of the heart, veins and arteries. Find out about types of cardiovascular disease and symptoms.

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease is the general term used to include both diseases of the heart (cardio) and the blood vessels (veins and arteries). Most cardiovascular diseases involve the heart. Some, such as strokes and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), involve blood supply to other parts of the body, such as the legs and brain (peripheral vascular disease).

Types of cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease tends to develop over time. The following is a list of more common cardiovascular diseases and conditions with a brief explanation of what they are.

Aneurysm An aneurysm is a widening or bulge in an artery or vein that can burst.
Angina Angina is discomfort or chest pain caused by a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the muscle of the heart.
Atherosclerosis Atherosclerosis is the gradual build-up of fatty deposits, called 'plaque', on the inner walls of the arteries. Atherosclerosis develops over time. It causes arteries to narrow resulting in reduced blood flow to the heart and other organs. It can cause angina, heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease.
Coronary heart disease When atherosclerosis affects the arteries of the heart it is called coronary heart disease.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism Some veins are close to our skin surface and called 'superficial' veins. Others are deep in the body. DVT occurs when a clot forms in a vein which is deep in the body. DVT can occur without a history of cardiovascular disease. Portions of the clot can become detached, giving rise to pulmonary embolism.
Heart attack A heart attack occurs when an artery to the heart becomes completely blocked and blood flow is stopped to part of the heart muscle.
High blood pressure (hypertension) While blood pressure can fluctuate, having consistently high blood pressure can damage arteries, the heart and other organs. High blood pressure also adds to the risk of having a heart attack and stroke.
Stroke A stroke can occur if an artery to the brain becomes blocked so the blood supply to the brain is disrupted or reduced. It can also occur if a cerebral (brain) vessel bleeds, causing cerebral haemorrhage (steady or severe loss of blood). Damage may occur to the part of the brain where the blood supply is reduced or the haemorrhage occurs, causing loss of consciousness, weakness, numbness, paralysis, dizziness, loss of balance, blurred or decreased vision, and difficulty in speaking or understanding. 

Symptoms of cardiovascular disease, heart attack or stroke

Some markers of cardiovascular disease are silent and build up over time such as high blood pressure and high total cholesterol.

Other symptoms are more noticeable and may be the signs of a heart attack or stroke, such as:

  • chest discomfort
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or fainting
  • irregular heart beat
  • blurred vision
  • numbness
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • trouble speaking or understanding

If you experience these symptoms seek immediate medical help or call 000.

Last updated 24 July 2017 — Last reviewed 15 January 2014

** Currently under review **

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at January 2014.

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