Your Health: Cardiovascular Health
The cardiovascular system is responsible for delivering oxygen carried in blood from the lungs to different parts of the body and then back to the lungs to be oxygenated. It also delivers many other substances and nutrients needed by our body for continuing life. The system is partly made up of the heart, arteries, veins, capillaries and blood. The heart is the main pump for pushing oxygenated blood around the body. Once the blood is oxygenated in the lungs it enters the heart then the heart pumps the blood around the body via the arteries.
Veins return oxygen poor blood back to the heart which in turn sends the deoxygenated blood to the lungs to be oxygenated and the process starts all over again. The respiratory system helps us to breath, and the lymphatic system is responsible for immunity, all these body systems work together with the cardiovascular system to keep us alive.
The arteries have strong elasticated walls that carry oxygen-rich blood and other important substances throughout the body to your organs and muscles, the arteries carry blood away from the heart. When active, muscles need more oxygen, for example when a person is walking or exercising and healthy arteries can adapt to meet this need.
Arteries can become narrowed from a disease called atherosclerosis – this is where the walls of the arteries become damaged due to waxy plaques called atheroma and scar tissue which limits blood circulation and contributes to diseases such as angina, heart attack, stroke and vascular dementia. As time goes by the arteries become hardened and they lose their flexibility. Atherosclerosis in the arteries is known more commonly as ‘hardening of the arteries’ or ‘furring of the arteries’.
Veins have thinner walls than arteries and contain one way valves. Healthy valves ensure that deoxygenated blood travels in the right direction back to the lungs and heart.
There are two systems of veins at work in the body. The deep system and the superficial system. The deep veins (deeper in the body) are of a large diameter and are situated close to the bone, surrounded by muscle and generally travel close to an artery of the same name. They carry the larger amount of blood. The superficial veins (nearer the outer surface of the body) are situated in the fat tissue under the skin and at times are visible. The superficial veins help regulate temperature nearer the skin.
Blood moves and is pushed towards the heart within the venous system because of the hearts residual pumping force. Breathing as well as movement from the muscles in the calf and foot contribute to moving the blood back up the body towards the heart. The valves in the veins if healthy stop the deoxygenated blood flow from reversing or backing up. This venous pumping system is often described as the second heart.
When valves become defective or weak, blood can pool in veins, and varicose veins, spider veins and chronic venous insufficiency can develop. Also, if blood slows in the venous system then blood clots can form which can lead to, at the very least, valve damage and enlarged veins and at the most death. Prolonged inactivity, operations, long flights and blood clotting disorders, along with some other things, can cause thrombosis in the venous system.
Cardiovascular disease includes coronary heart disease (heart attacks and angina), stroke, some kidney diseases, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and vascular dementia. Much of it is associated by the build up of atherosclerosis in the arteries which make them become diseased. Many different things other than having high cholesterol can contribute to the build up of these waxy plaques. Over the years certain risk factors have been discovered that all cause or indicate cardiovascular disease and having one of the risk factors increases the risk of having another. The more risk factors a person has the higher the risk is of them having a heart attack, stroke or vascular dementia. Heart attacks and strokes are often caused by blood clots or plaques breaking off the artery walls and causing blockages.
Lifestyle risk factors that can be prevented or changed:
Lack of physical activity (a sedentary lifestyle)
An unhealthy diet rich in animal fats/refined sugars
Fixed risk factors – ones that you cannot alter:
A strong family history – father/brother/mother/sister who developed angina or had a heart attack before they were 60
An early menopause in women
Age. The older you become, the more likely you are to develop Atheroma
Ethnic group. South Asian/African Caribbean
If the arteries of the kidneys and small blood vessels that make up the filters of the kidneys are affected by atheroma the result is the commonest form of chronic kidney disease that, in turn, increases the risk of heart attacks and may lead to kidney failure. Obesity and physical inactivity may lead to the most prevalent form of diabetes (type 2), which, if not recognized or poorly controlled, damages blood vessels and increases the risk of atheroma and therefore other vascular disease. PAD or peripheral arterial disease in the legs can lead to ulcers, gangrene and amputation as well as severe pain and clots.
Taking action to reduce the above mentioned risk factors can make a difference to how fast these diseases progress, or whether they happen at all, and so reduce the risk of vascular disease.
Venous disease refers to any condition adversely affecting tissue drainage and venous return to heart. It is more common in women, with one factor being increased venous pressures during pregnancy. Obesity is relevant, as is age.
Factors leading to thrombosis are – stasis ie periods of inactivity, hypercoagubility (blood prone to clotting, i.e. Factor V Leiden), dehydration, injury to the endothelium ie vein injury following surgery or Trauma to veins.
Keeping fit and healthy by regular exercise and healthy eating is very important to your cardiovascular health. The healthier you are, the lower your risk for cardiovascular disease which includes heart attack and stroke. In turn, it lowers your risk of some other diseases such as cancer. Being health conscious can help your body run like a ‘well oiled machine’. In other words, your body will be working at its highest level, so that you can be ‘the best you can be’.
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