Complications and Comorbidities

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), also known as heart disease, affects millions of people worldwide. Many other health conditions can arise along with CVD. In the medical world, these other conditions are called comorbidities. Comorbidities can worsen the effects of heart disease, which can cause further health complications.1

Understanding comorbidities versus complications

Comorbidities are health conditions that exist alongside a primary disease. In people with CVD, these comorbid conditions can affect the progression and management of their heart disease.

A complication, on the other hand, is a problem or issue that arises as a result of a specific disease or condition. Complications of heart disease can include:2

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Physical disability, often as a result of a stroke
  • Death

Common comorbidities of CVD

People with heart disease often face a higher risk of comorbidities because of their age, lifestyle habits, or family history. When you have comorbidities along with CVD, they can be hard to treat. Treating CVD often requires a team of health professionals.1,2

Common comorbidities of heart disease include:1-4

Vision problems

A 2019 study that followed participants for a long time found that low vision was one of the most common non-cardiovascular comorbidities in people with heart disease. Low vision also occurred more often when the participant had heart failure. Conditions that caused low vision included:1

  • Retinopathy (damage to the eye's retina)
  • Macular degeneration (damage to the eye's macula)
  • Glaucoma (damage to the eye's optic nerve)
  • Cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)

Diabetes

Diabetes and heart disease often go hand in hand. High blood sugar levels can damage the arteries and increase the risk of heart complications. Adults with diabetes have almost twice the risk of getting some form of CVD than adults who do not have diabetes.1,3

Respiratory conditions

Chronic respiratory issues, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sleep apnea, can complicate cardiovascular disease. This is because they reduce the amount of oxygen the heart receives and can cause abnormal heart rhythms.1,2

Cancer

A 2022 study found that rates of CVD were nearly 50 percent higher for adult cancer survivors than for people without cancer. Heart failure and stroke are the most common types of CVD in cancer survivors. Experts think that certain cancer treatments – like radiation and chemotherapy – may affect the heart and lead to CVD.4

Obesity

Excess body weight makes the cardiovascular system work extra hard, which can speed up heart disease progression. Being overweight or obese also can lead to type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, which are other common comorbidities of CVD. Reaching a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and getting regular physical activity is vital for both heart health and overall well-being.1,6

Chronic kidney disease

The kidneys and the cardiovascular system are closely linked. Chronic kidney disease can lead to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. Both of these put more strain on the heart.5,6

How comorbidities affect people with CVD

Comorbidities often complicate how heart disease is treated. Different conditions may require different treatments or medicines. It can be challenging to find a balance that addresses all your health issues without causing unwanted side effects.1,2

The risk of having complications with CVD is high. But when you are living with CVD along with comorbidities, the risk for complications is even higher. Managing multiple health conditions also can take a toll on your physical and mental well-being. It can lower your overall quality of life.1,2

Balancing CVD with comorbidities

Balancing CVD and comorbidities can be hard. To have the best treatment outcomes, you and your doctors must communicate well. A team of healthcare professionals may need to work together to coordinate your treatment and develop a care plan for your specific needs.1

To balance CVD with other health conditions, you will want to:1,2

  • Make lifestyle changes. Eat a nutritious diet, exercise, and manage your stress.
  • Get regular checkups. Get regular medical checkups to monitor your overall health and adjust treatment plans as needed.
  • Stay alert to any new symptoms. You may take several medicines to manage your CVD and comorbidities. Work with your healthcare team to ensure that your medicines are not causing any interactions. Tell them if you start to have any side effects.

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