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Heart and circulation

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The prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases

Around a third of all the people in the UK will die of some form of cardiovascular disease - mainly heart attacks and strokes.


Preventing cardiovascular disease

It makes good sense to try to reduce the risk of developing CVD. There are a number of simple steps which will help:

  • Keep your weight down - or lose some weight if you know you are overweight or obese
  • Stop smoking - or better still never start
  • Take regular exercise - even walking from place to place helps
  • Watch your blood cholesterol levels by eating a low fat diet and having the levels tested regularly


Treating cardiovascular disease

Many people make lifestyle choices which increase their risk of CVDs. But even with a healthy lifestyle, many people will still suffer from some form of CVD. Luckily there are many different treatments which doctors can use to both help prevent disease and to treat any problems which occur.

  • Statins are medicines which lower cholesterol levels in people who cannot control them by diet alone. They also help to balance the amounts of good and bad cholesterol. They prevent many strokes and heart attacks.
  • Anticoagulants are medicines which help stop the blood clotting too easily. They are useful for preventing clots forming when people are at risk of heart attacks or strokes - for example if they suffer from atrial fibrillation.
  • Bypass surgery replaces blocked coronary arteries with healthy blood vessels from somewhere else in the body, often the legs or the chest. The surgery restores the blood supply to the heart muscle and prevents angina pain and heart attacks. This surgery involves opening up the chest of the patient to get at the heart so it takes a long time, costs a lot of money and carries a risk to the patient. In recent years doctors often avoid the need for bypass surgery by the use of stents.
  • Stents are special mesh tubes which can be inserted into an artery affected by atherosclerosis. The stent is opened up using a tiny balloon which inflates. This squashes the fatty deposits and opens up the blood vessel so the blood can flow freely again. Stents can be put in place in the coronary arteries by feeding them in through the blood vessels in the leg. This doesn't need an operation so it is faster, safer for the patient and cheaper. Some stents are now made which contain medicines which reduce the risk of blood clotting even further.
Atherosclerosis Stents
  • Artificial pacemakers are put into the body with two wires running to the heart. Their job is to take over the function of the natural pacemaker region if it goes wrong. The pacemaker has a battery and sends a small shock into the heart muscle at regular intervals to stimulate it to beat normally.
Pacemaker New


Treating a heart attack


Defibrillators can save lives

If someone has a heart attack, doctors try to get them stable enough to have bypass surgery, stents or treatment with medicines to keep them alive and well.

  • Clot-busting medicines (thrombolytic medicines) are given to people to dissolve the clots in the coronary arteries that are causing a heart attack (or stroke). The sooner they are given, the more effective they are.
  • If the ventricles of the heart stop pumping blood properly, or the heart stops completely, a defibrillator can be used. This gives the heart an electric shock and may start it beating again in a normal rhythm. Defibrillators are often used by doctors or paramedics in ambulances and hospitals. However every minute that passes after a cardiac arrest reduces the chances of survival by 14%. Automated defibrillators are sometimes found in pubs, swimming pools and shopping centres. They can be used by members of the public as they give clear automatic instructions about what to do to save a life.