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Understanding Cardiovascular Disease

As a personal trainer you must be able to identify and act on the symptoms of cardiovascular disease when you see them. On this page we review the major cardiovascular diseases and their associated symptoms.

Coronary heart disease and stroke are the two most common and potentially deadly forms of cardiovascular disease.  They are both ‘diseases’ of the cardium (heart) and vascular (blood vessels) systems.  What differentiates the two diseases is the location in the body that is affected.  Coronary heart disease effects the coronary arteries of the heart while damage to the blood vessels of the brain lead to strokes.

Coronary Heart Disease

The physiological cause of coronary heart disease (CHD) is lack of oxygenated blood to the heart due to a block of a coronary artery or a narrowing of the coronary artery walls.  The major symptoms of coronary heart disease are; chest pain and shortness of breath.

Atherosclerosis & Arteriosclerosis

personal training heart diseaseAtherosclerosis is a condition which results in small tears or lesions in arteries that eventually obstruct and limit the flow of blood (and therefore oxygen). The obstructions occur when cholesterol or calcified fatty deposits are laid down in the lesions, which overtime build up until they limit the flow of blood. 

Arteriosclerosis (sounds similar but it isn’t!) is another condition that affects the coronary arteries (as well as other arteries in the body).  Arteriosclerosis involves the loss of elastic connective tissue in the arteries, causing the artery walls to stiffen or harden and although this is a general anatomical change associated with the aging process, it is also accelerated by lifestyle factors especially smoking. 


Angina pectoris

Angina pectoris is defined as chest pain or discomfort of cardiac origin that usually results from a temporary imbalance between myocardial (heart muscle) oxygen supply and demand.  In basic terms, not enough oxygen is getting to the heart.

Myocardial infarctionpersonal training heart attack

Myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, results from a lack of blood flow which is sufficient enough to cause cell death within a certain area of the heart.  When a coronary artery becomes sufficiently blocked, or occluded, the area of the myocardium being supplied may die.  If myocardial damage is great enough, then potentially heart failure may occur.

Coronary heart disease symptoms

  • Tightness of chest
  • Burning feeling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Compression or ‘crushing’ feeling in chest
  • Aching (usually slightly to the left of the sternum) and can radiate up the neck and down the left arm in particular
  • Panic



personal training strokeThe physiological cause of a stroke is a lack of oxygenated blood to the brain due to a block of an artery or narrowing of artery walls leading to, or in, the brain.  The symptoms of a stroke can be numerous depending on the area of the brain that is affected; symptoms will typically include the loss of any senses and/or the loss of understanding.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or the blood vessel bursts.  When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.

Common stroke symptoms

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eye
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

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