Your heart and blood vessels make up your cardiovascular system.

The cardiovascular system
Your heart is a pump. It is a muscular organ about the size of your fist and it is located slightly left of the center of your chest. As the heart pumps, blood is sent around your body, carrying oxygen and nutrients.

There are different types of blood vessels:

  • Arteries carry blood away from the heart and towards the organs of the body (red).
  • Some arteries supply blood to the heart itself. These are called coronary arteries.
  • Veins carry blood back towards the heart (blue).

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Why is it important to look after your heart?

Diseases of the heart and blood vessels are the number one cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.*

*WHO 2018 http://www.who.int/cardiovascular_diseases/en/

17.7 Million
People die each year from cardiovascular diseases
80%
Of all 80% cardiovascular deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes
31%
Of deaths worldwide are caused by cardiovascular diseases

Atherosclerosis

  • Sometimes, fatty deposits can build up on the walls of the arteries.
  • These are known as plaques.
  • As the plaque builds up, the artery wall becomes thicker and makes the artery narrower.
  • This can reduce blood flow and consequently the supply of oxygen to different parts of the body.
  • The type of artery affected and where the plaque develops varies with each person.
  • Atherosclerosis is the name for the condition where plaque builds up inside the arteries.

Cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases include conditions that affect the structure or function of the heart and blood vessels, such as:

Coronary heart disease: caused by plaques in the arteries supplying the heart with oxygen. This can lead to chest pain (angina) or heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Stroke: caused by an interruption of the blood supply to the brain. This can be caused by blockages such as blood clots or plaques in the arteries of the neck or brain. A stroke can also be caused by an artery in the brain bursting.

Peripheral vascular disease (‘poor circulation’): caused by plaques in arteries that supply blood to the legs, stomach and arms, most commonly the legs.

Risk factors for atherosclerosis

Medical:
hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, chronic kidney disease, obesity, diabetes

Demographic:
age, gender, ethnicity, family history, socioeconomic status

Lifestyle:
smoking, diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress

How can I improve my heart health?

  • Stop smoking, reduce salt in the diet, eat more fruits and vegetables, do regular physical activity and avoid too much alcohol; these have all been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.**
  • Drug treatment of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high blood lipids and obesity may also be necessary to reduce cardiovascular risk and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In the SELECT study you will receive a number of information leaflets to help you improve your heart health.

**American Heart Association 2018 http://www.heart.org