Cardiovascular disease (CVD) means all the diseases of the heart and circulation, including coronary heart disease (angina and heart attack), heart failure, stroke and abnormal rhythms.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) happens when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with blood and oxygen) become narrow, by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls. This is called atherosclerosis and the fat that builds up is called atheroma. Over time, your arteries may become so narrow that they are unable to deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle. This can cause angina or heart attack.

Angina

Angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease. As the arteries narrow, less blood and oxygen are delivered to your heart, causing symptoms. Symptoms of angina are different for women because the fat deposits in layers. This means our symptoms can be more subtle.

Angina occurs when arteries become partially blocked by fat deposits, limiting blood supply to vital organs. You may feel multiple symptoms together, such as pain in chest, jaw, back, stomach, nausea, sweating and difficulty breathing. You may also experience these symptoms individually. Angina pains are a sign there is a serious issue with your heart. 

Symptoms include:

  • heaviness, tightness or pain in your chest
  • dull achy pain in chest, jaw, back, stomach
  • nausea, upset stomach
  • sweating
  • decreased circulation
  • difficulty breathing

Heart Attack

If a fat deposit breaks away and gets lodged in a coronary artery, it can cause a blood clot blockage, preventing oxygen and blood flow to the heart. A heart attack is life threatening and can permanently damage the heart (called a myocardial infarction), or create an abnormal rhythm and send you into cardiac arrest, causing death.

Symptoms include:

  • chest pain or discomfort, which may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, stomach or back.
  • A dull pain, ache or ‘heavy’ feeling in your chest.
  • Chest pain or discomfort which feels like indigestion but makes you feel generally unwell.
  • Feeling sick, sweaty, breathless, lightheaded, dizzy or generally unwell.

Heart Failure

Heart failure occurs when not enough blood is being pumped to the vital organs of your body. This occurs because of either A) a stiffening of the ventricles, allowing limited blood out, or B) when the heart becomes enlarged and the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood supply to organs. 

Heart failure is when the heart muscle becomes weak and can no longer pump blood efficiently through the body. It can be caused by a number of things such as high blood pressure, problems with the valves in your heart, congenital heart issues (a heart condition you were born with), cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) and drinking too much alcohol.

Symptoms include:

  • tiredness
  • breathlessness
  • swollen ankles, feet, legs, abdomen and veins in neck

Stroke

Stroke occurs when a clot forms in the arteries in your brain, preventing oxygenation. This can also cause your arteries or veins to burst and cause bleeding in your brain. 

Research clearly demonstrates that as women, we are more likely to suffer from a stroke than men. We are also more likely to suffer more long term side effects. A stroke happens when a clot forms in your arteries preventing oxygen from reaching the brain. When the brain doesn't have an adequate supply of oxygen, there can be serious damage to brain cellular function, potentially altering the way your mind and body function in the future. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, you need to act fast by calling 911.

Signs of stroke:

  • Facial weakness– can you smile? Has your mouth or eye drooped?
  • Arm weakness– can you raise both arms?
  • Speech problems– can you speak clearly and can others understand what you are saying?

Abnormal Heart Rhythm

An abnormal rhythm can be see on a simple heart rate app such as this. Abnormal rhythms will have abnormal jumps in heart rate from one moment to the next, even at rest. 

An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Some people describe arrhythmias as fluttering or thumping feelings or skipped beats in their chests. These feelings are called palpitations.

Some arrhythmias can cause your heart to suddenly stop beating. This condition is called sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). SCA causes loss of consciousness and death if it's not treated right away.

Symptoms of arrhythmia:

  • Palpitations (feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or fast)
  • A slow, or faint heartbeat
  • An irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling pauses between heartbeats

More serious signs and symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Weakness, dizziness, and light-headedness
  • Fainting or nearly fainting
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain