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Cardiovascular diseases

What are cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for various diseases of the heart or blood vessels. Cardiovascular diseases are a major cause of death in the Netherlands.

Cause of cardiovascular disease

Vessel stenosis is usually the cause of cardiovascular problems. Vessel constriction can start at an early age. As a result, it can take years before cardiovascular problems arise. As a result of clogging of the arteries (atherosclerosis), blood vessels in, for example, your leg or foot can become harder. As a result, the blood cannot flow through the blood vessels adequately. As a result, the oxygen supply to the organs and muscles can become insufficient.

How many people have cardiovascular diseases?

The most common cardiovascular diseases are coronary heart disease and stroke. In 2016, there were an estimated 739,800 people with coronary heart disease and 451,900 with stroke.

Health effects

Mortality

After cancer, cardiovascular diseases are the most important cause of death in the Netherlands. Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for almost 30% of total mortality in the Netherlands. This concerns about 40,000 cases per year, divided approximately equally between men and women. More than 85% of deaths from cardiovascular disease involve people aged 65 and over.

Since the 1970s, the number of people dying of cardiovascular disease has been falling. This is most likely due to a sharp drop in the number of smokers, the removal of trans fats from foods in the 1990s and increased attention to a healthier lifestyle. The development of medicines for cardiovascular diseases, such as cholesterol and blood pressure lowering drugs, and better treatment methods, such as angioplasty after a heart attack, also play a role.

Risk factors

Large-scale and long-term research shows the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease:

  • A high and unfavourable composite cholesterol and/or fat content of the blood. This is the most important diet-related risk factor. The ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol and the level of triglyceride (a certain fatty substance) in the blood are particularly important. This is particularly a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Read more about cholesterol.
  • Diabetes. When blood sugar levels are high for a long time, the blood vessels are damaged. That is why people with diabetes are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases.
  • Increased blood pressure. Brain haemorrhages are clearly linked to high blood pressure.
  • Increased blood clotting tendency. Clots can reduce or prevent the flow of blood through the vessels.
  • Overweight. Abdominal fat, in particular, is a higher risk.
  • Little exercise, smoking and stress.
  • Nutrition (see heading: Role of nutrition)

Hereditary factors also play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. Genetic predisposition can increase the risk by about 60%. In the Netherlands, for example, 1 in 300 people has a predisposition for a greatly increased LDL cholesterol level in the blood, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. 1 out of 5 heart patients has a hereditary form of an excessively high fat content of the blood. Other genetic defects may also play a role, but these are not yet exactly clear and are still being researched. Often, cardiovascular diseases involve a combination of several factors.

Role of diet in cardiovascular disease

By eating healthily, people can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Health Council has evaluated the effects of foods and nutrients on this risk. It shows that eating certain foods or nutrients is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Other foods or nutrients are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

Food or nutrient Increases the risk of
Trans fatty acids Coronary heart diseases
Red meat Stroke
Processed meat or meat products Stroke
Lowers the risk of
Replacement of saturated fatty acids by polyunsaturated fatty acids Coronary heart diseases
Vegetable Coronary heart diseases
Stroke
Fruit Coronary heart diseases
Stroke
Whole grain cereals and cereal products Coronary heart diseases
Fibre (total) Coronary heart diseases
Stroke
Nuts and seeds Coronary heart diseases
Fish Coronary heart diseases
Stroke
Fish fatty acids EPA+DHA Coronary heart diseases
Potassium Stroke
Coffee (filtered coffee) Coronary heart diseases
Stroke
Black and green tea Stroke

Alcohol

Findings on the relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular disease indicate both a favourable and an unfavourable relationship. Moderate alcohol consumption (up to 15 g per day, i.e. a maximum of 1.5 glasses) is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease, but higher consumption increases the risk of stroke. Read more under alcohol.

Nutrition advice

Advice on preventing cardiovascular disease

A healthy diet according to the 'Schijf van Vijf', a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle with enough exercise, not too much stress and not smoking reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Advice on cardiovascular diseases

Are there indications that your blood vessels are clogging up? Do you have high blood pressure? Or have you had a heart attack or stroke, for example? Usually, healthy eating is part of your treatment plan, in addition to medication. Healthy eating contributes to taking good care of your body and feeling fitter. Your doctor is in charge of your treatment and will check whether you need cholesterol or blood pressure lowering medication. Your doctor can refer you to a dietician.

Also, only use products with plant sterols or stanols, such as special margarines and yoghurt drinks, on the doctor's advice.

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