Normal and Therapeutic Nutrition 3(2+1)
Lesson 26:Cardiovascular and atherosclerosis – causes, symptoms


Heart disease or cardiovascular diseases is the class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels (arteries and veins). While the term technically refers to any disease that affects the cardiovascular system, it is usually used to refer to those related to atherosclerosis (arterial disease). These conditions have similar causes, mechanisms, and treatments.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the western world. There are a number of well-established risk factors for CVD including smoking, hypertension and family history. In terms of nutrition, a diet high in fat, particularly saturated fat, has been shown to be associated with CVD incidence. The observation that Greenland Eskimos have a low incidence of CVD despite a high saturated fat intake has led to much scientific and public interest in the role of n-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oils in the prevention and treatment of disease, and particularly CVD. Heart disease affects people of all ages, but is most frequent in middle age and is most often caused by atherosclerosis.

No single factor is an absolute cause either of atherosclerosis or of coronary disease. Many factors are interrelated and to the extent that they are present they increase the risk of the disease. Major risk factors are elevated serum cholesterol, hypertension, cigarette smoking, Diabetes mellitus, and marked obesity. Other risk factors include a family history of early heart disease other lipid abnormalities, lack of physical activity and stress.

To treat coronary artery disease (CAD) it is important to first recognize it. The prediction, diagnosis and treatment of CAD is based on the risk factors which help in identifying the individuals at risk. These risk factors are either modifiable or non modifiable.

Table: Modifiable and non modifiable risk factors

Life style Biochemical/physiological characteristic (modifiable) Personal characteristics (non modifiable)
Diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol & energy Elevated Blood pressure Age
Tobacco smoking Elevated plasma total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol Sex
Excess consumption of alcohol
Family history of CHD at an early age (men <55years, women<65 years)
Physical activity Low plasma, HDL cholesterol
Elevated plasma triglycerides. Hyperglycemia/ diabetes
Thrombogenic factors
Personal history of CHD or other atherosclerotic vascular disease.

Diseases of heart can be caused to

  • Pericardium
  • Myocardium
  • Endocardium
  • Blood vessels within the heart, those leaving the heart or the heart valves
Last modified: Tuesday, 25 October 2011, 5:18 AM