what is cardiovascular disease

Reviewed By Dr. Chenpang Soong

When we hear the words cardiovascular disease, many of us think of heart disease, but those words can refer to a number of different conditions. Cardiovascular diseases, also known as CVDs, are a group of disorders that affect the structures and functions of the heart and its blood vessels. 

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting hundreds of thousands each year. It is important to learn what to look for in identifying cardiovascular diseases and the ways to help prevent it. People with cardiovascular disease are able to live healthy, active lives by learning about their specific disease, working with a physician, and by taking care of themselves. 

According to the CDC, in the United States one person dies every 34 seconds from cardiovascular disease. In 2020, approximately 697,000 people in the United States died from heart disease, making that 1 in 5 deaths. You can find additional information from the CDC regarding cardiovascular disease here

In this article, we are going to discuss different types of cardiovascular disease, signs and symptoms of those diseases, causes, treatments, ways to help prevent it and where to go for help. 

At Saint John’s Physician Partners, our network provides personalized and comprehensive cardiovascular care in Southern California. Our board certified cardiologists have extensive sub-specialty training to provide you with the latest innovations and research along with a highly collaborative approach to treating each patient. Learn more about our cardiovascular program here.

Causes and Risk Factors of Cardiovascular Disease: 

Is Cardiovascular Disease hereditary? 

Yes, cardiovascular disease can be hereditary. If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease, your risk of developing the disease increases. It is important to discuss your family history with your physician, so you can be monitored for any problems. 

In addition to family history, there are a multitude of behavioral risk factors that can lead to cardiovascular disease.

These factors include: 

  • Physical inactivity 
  • Tobacco and alcohol use 
  • Being overweight or obese 

Additional factors include: 

  • Age: CVD is most common in those over 50 and increases with age.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop CVD at an earlier age than women.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels. 

Types of Cardiovascular Disease 

There are a variety of cardiovascular diseases and below you will find a brief introduction to each. For more in-depth information, please visit the Saint John’s Physician Partners. If you are experiencing any concerning symptoms, please contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians at https://www.sjpp.org/find-a-doctor/ You can also contact us 7 days a week from 9am-5pm by calling 424-900-8394 

Heart failure

Heart failure refers to when the heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should, meaning it is not meeting the body’s need for blood and oxygen. 

Heart Attack/Coronary Artery Disease

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked by a blood clot. Many people survive a first heart attack, but depending on the severity, your physician may prescribe medications and/or lifestyle changes. 


An ischemic stroke is the most common and occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel that feeds the brain. This can result in loss of functions that are controlled by the brain, like walking or talking. A hemorrhagic stroke is when a blood vessel inside the brain bursts, often caused by high blood pressure. Some of the effects may be permanent, if too many blood cells die. 

Aortic Stenosis

Also called heart valve disease. This is when your heart’s aortic valve narrows, preventing the valve from fully opening. This requires your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body and eventually limits the amount it can pump. 

Atrial Fibrillation

Also known as an arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. This is where the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, which can lead to complications such as heart failure or stroke. 

Deep Venous Thrombosis

Also known as a blood clot which forms in a deep vein and usually develops in a lower leg, thigh or pelvis. If the blood clot travels to the lungs, it causes a pulmonary embolism, which can block the flow of blood. A pulmonary embolism can cause death, but can be treated if discovered early.


Also known as high cholesterol and is when fatty deposits build in the blood vessels, making it difficult for blood to flow to the arteries. 


Hypertension occurs when your blood pressure is higher than it should be. 

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

A disease that causes the thickening of the heart’s muscle and makes it hard for the heart to pump all the blood your body needs. 

Pericardial Disease

Also known as pericarditis. This is an inflammation of any of the layers of the sac which surrounds the heart. These layers hold the heart in place, help it work and help to prevent infection. 

Peripheral Vascular Disease

A slow and progressive condition, which occurs when blood vessels in the feet and legs narrow and restrict blood flow, due to a buildup of plaque in the blood vessels. 

Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease 

Oftentimes, there are no symptoms that someone may have an underlying cardiovascular disease. A heart attack or stroke may be a patient’s first sign that something is wrong. 

Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Pain/discomfort in the chest, arms, left shoulder, elbows, jaw or back
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness

It is also important to note that women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or or jaw pain. 

Symptoms of a stroke may include:

  • Sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg, usually on side of the body
  • Confusion, difficulty speaking, seeing or walking
  • Headaches with no known cause
  • Fainting

If you should experience any of the symptoms, seek medical care immediately. Contact our offices for a followup appointment with one of our board certified cardiologists.

Treating Cardiovascular Disease 

Treatments for cardiovascular disease can vary depending on the severity of the disease. It is possible to manage the disease effectively with a combination of lifestyle changes, medicine and in some cases, surgery. With the correct treatment recommended by your physician, symptoms can be reduced and the functioning of the heart can be improved. 

The Saint John’s Physician Partners site will allow you to explore treatments and services specific to your diagnosis.

Cardiovascular disease can present in a variety of different ways, many of which have been discussed above. It is important to discuss your concerns and symptoms with a board certified cardiologist and work with your physician to create a detailed care plan. Do not hesitate to schedule your appointment. Call us 7 days a week from 9 am – 5 pm at 424-900-8394, or if you prefer, visit the following link to schedule your appointment today.

Additional Resources

1. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascul ar-disease 

2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds)

3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cardiovascular-disease/ 

4. https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/diseases-cardiovascular

5. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

About Dr. Chenpang Soong

Chenpang Soong, MD

Dr. Chenpang Soong graduated from University of Connecticut School of Medicine MD/PhD program in 2014. After an internal medicine residency at University of Connecticut School of Medicine, he completed a fellowship in cardiovascular disease at University of Pennsylvania in 2020, a fellowship in Interventional Cardiology at Einstein Medical Center in 2021 and spent an extra year of fellowship in Vascular Medicine and Intervention at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital in 2022.

Updated July 18, 2023.