By the middle of the 20th century, cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death in northern Europe. Coronary artery disease was the primary cause, although rheumatic fever and high blood pressure also claimed lives. The number of deaths caused by cardiovascular disease peaked by the early 1980s, and over the last 25–35 years preventive treatments have brought about a steady decline in cardiovascular disease deaths in many developed countries.
This section covers the major disorders affecting the heart and the circulation. The first articles overlap to a certain extent because some cardiovascular disorders can lead to the development of others. Smoking, an unhealthy diet, being overweight, and lack of exercise are risk factors for the development of hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis, in which the arteries are narrowed. Narrowing of the coronary arteries that supply the heart muscle can cause coronary artery disease, which itself is the major cause of angina and heart attacks. If the heart is damaged by coronary artery disease or a heart attack, it may be unable to pump blood efficiently around the rest of the body, resulting in heart failure. Heart failure can develop suddenly, or it may be a chronic disorder that develops over a number of years.
The last articles in the section cover hypotension, the medical term for low blood pressure, and shock. Shock is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment in hospital.
For further information on the structure of the cardiovascular system, see Blood Flow Through the Heart.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.