Cardiovascular Diseases

In Portugal, cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of premature death.

CVDs are a group of diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including:

  • Coronary heart disease – disease of the blood vessels that irrigate the heart;
  • Cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels that irrigate the brain;
  • Peripheral arterial disease – disease of the blood vessel that irrigate the arms and legs;
  • Rheumatic heart disease – damages to the heart muscle and valves as a result of rheumatic fever, caused by bacteria;
  • Congenital heart disease – malformation present since birth;
  • Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots present in the legs’ blood vessels that can get detached and reach the heart and lungs.

Heart attacks and strokes are acute events, and are generally caused by a blockage of the blood flow to the heart or brain, respectively. The most common cause is the deposition of fat on the lining of the blood vessels that irrigate the heart and the brain. Acute myocardial infarction can also result from a hemorrhage in a brain blood vessel or due to the formation of blood clots.

CVDs are the leading cause of death worldwide. It is estimated that 17.3 million people have died of CVD in 2008, making up 30% of total deaths. It is predicted that by 2030, CVDs will cause 23.3 million deaths.

In Portugal, it is also the leading cause of death; 197.1 per 100,000 inhabitants have died of CVD.

These diseases are associated with a set of risk factors. Some, such as genetics, gender and age, cannot be modified. Other, however, can be avoided: hypertension, smoking habits, stress, obesity, diabetes and dyslipidemia. Therefore, prevention of CVD should focus on these modifiable risk factors. It is essential to follow a complete, balanced and varied diet, exercise regularly, maintain an adequate body weight and keep blood pressure within adequate parameters (systolic blood pressure – below 140 mmHg; diastolic blood pressure – below 90 mmHg).