Cardiac & vasculardiseases

A large number of diseases come under cardiac and vascular diseases which affect the heart or the blood vessels. Cardiac and vascular disease are among the most common causes of death in Switzerland.

The umbrella term cardiac and vascular disease includes all diseases of the heart and the blood vessels. This includes, among others, strokes, arteriosclerosis, heart attack, coronary heart disease, cardiac insufficiency, cardiac arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, congenital heart defects, heart valve diseases, thrombosis, varicose veins and phlebitis.

You can find initial information on the most common diseases here.

Vascular calcification

Arteriosclerosis is a dangerous, commonly-occurring disease which affects the blood vessels (vascular calcification). In the process, the inner walls of the arteries harden and narrow until the blood can no longer flow correctly. This can lead to circulatory problems in the legs or even to a stroke or heart attack. Risk factors for arteriosclerosis are among others:

  • Fatty food
  • Excess body weight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Vascular inflammation
  • Genetic factors

A distinction is made between arterial and venous thromboses. Arterial thromboses occur in constrictions (calcifications) in the area of the arteries. Thrombosis can result in closure of the artery in the area of the constriction or close the artery more peripherally in the form of an embolism, for example in the case of a stroke. Venous thrombosis occurs in the deep veins, usually in the leg veins. If the venous thrombosis travels, this causes a pulmonary embolism. The causes of thrombosis can be attributed to a combination of several factors:

  • Deceleration in the blood flow
  • Change in the blood composition, blood clotting
  • Changes to the vascular wall
Varicose veins

Veins transport blood back to the heart. The deep veins are responsible for the backflow of more than 90% of all the blood. If the muscle pump fails to work properly or if there is damage to the venous valves, the blood flows back. The affected veins and branch veins increase in diameter and become much larger. Causes of varicose veins are among others:

  • Genetic tissue weakness
  • Sitting or standing for lengthy periods
  • Excess body weight
Coronary heart diseases

These diseases are caused by constriction or blockages in the coronary arteries. The most common forms here are angina pectoris, cerebral infarction and cardiac arrest, which is also known as sudden cardiac death.

If the coronary arteries constrict or close, this results in a lack of blood to the heart muscle (ischaemia). Constriction is generally the result of arterial calcification (arteriosclerosis). Ischaemia of the heart muscle causes paroxysmal (sudden) chest pain with severe pressure, burning or a feeling of tightness, mostly behind the sternum. The pain can also radiate into the neck, arms, shoulders or into the abdomen, and be accompanied by difficulty breathing or nausea. The pain during an attack of angina pectoris usually lasts no longer than 15 minutes – if they last longer, are extremely strong or accompanied by sweating, this is a sign of a heart attack (see cardiac emergency).

Heart attack

If a coronary artery closes completely, this causes a heart attack. The affected part of the heart muscle receives no further oxygen as a result, and dies. The muscle tissue is replaced with scar tissue after an acute heart attack phase. The efficiency of the heart is reduced as a result, and further heart problems such as cardiac insufficiency (heart failure) and cardiac arrhythmias may occur.

Cardiac arrhythmias

If the electrical impulse in the heart muscle is not correctly generated or transmitted and takes on a life of its own, this causes cardiac arrhythmias (arrhythmias) to occur. These can manifest as skipped beats, palpitations or a rapid heartbeat, and are often accompanied by dizziness, shortness of breath and a feeling of pressure in the chest.

Cardiac arrhythmias may be caused by the following: high blood pressure, coronary artery calcification, heart attack, heart failure/cardiac insufficiency, heart valve defects, heart muscle inflammation, overactive thyroid function, certain medications, imbalance in the mineral content of the blood (electrolytes), stress, alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse.

Although there are many different types of arrhythmias, they have similar symptoms:

  • Palpitations or rapid heart beat
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of pressure or pain in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness through to loss of consciousness

Depending on when it occurs and the impact on the heart frequency, a differentiation is made between the following cardiac arrhythmias. You will find more information on the respective clinical picture

  • Extrasystoles
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial flutter
  • Tachycardia
  • Bradycardia
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Ventricular flutter and ventricular tachycardia (ventricular tachycardias)
  • Atrial fibrillation
Cardiac arrest

In this case, the heart is so severely compromised that it can no longer deliver sufficient oxygen to the body. The most common cause of sudden cardiac death is ventricular fibrillation, cardiac arrhythmia during which the heart no longer beats but fibrillates very rapidly. Ventricular fibrillation leads to immediate cardiac arrest. The affected person suddenly collapses and loses consciousness. They do not react to being shaken or when spoken to. They stop breathing and have no discernible pulse. Immediate defibrillation is the only way to help.


Cerebral infarction

During a cerebral infarction (stroke), the brain no longer receives sufficient oxygen due to circulatory problems. The affected person's brain cells die within minutes. A differentiation is made between the following types of stroke:

  • Ischaemic cerebral infarction (approx. 85% of all strokes): A cerebral artery is blocked as a result of a blood clot. 
  • Haemorrhagic cerebral infarction (approx. 10% of all strokes): A blood vessel tears in the brain and the blood reaches the cerebral tissue.
  • Subarachnoid haemorrhage (approx. 5% of all strokes): This is a special and rare cause of cerebral infarction. An enlarged blood vessel (aneurysm) tears in the area of the cerebral meninges. The blood then flows between the cerebral meninges and presses on the brain. The increased pressure destroys the nerve cells and is accompanied by unbearable head pain. Those affected can lose consciousness within seconds.
Cardiac insufficiency

Cardiac insufficiency (heart failure) involves a weak and overworked heart. The reduction in heart performance causes an accumulation of blood and fluid in the body or in the lungs. In the case of physical exertion, heart failure quickly results in breathing difficulties and reduced oxygen supply to the body. The heart attempts to compensate for the reduced pumping capacity by enlarging the muscle. However, the enlargement of the heart usually only leads to increased heart failure over time.