• University of Reading

Heart Health: A Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease

Learn more about how your heart works, the causes of heart disease and how to keep your heart healthy with this free online course

65,904 enrolled on this course

The heart
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Your heart beats around 100,000 times a day, pumping blood around your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients, while taking away waste products.

When your heart is unhealthy, it can’t perform this vital task so effectively. This can cause significant health problems – heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the UK and an estimated 17 million people die of cardiovascular disease each year worldwide.

Heart disease is something that touches many lives, but can be difficult to understand.

An introduction to heart health

This four-week course aims to improve your knowledge of how the heart works, the effects of heart disease and what you can do to avoid it. We’ll explore the anatomy of the heart, explaining how the circulatory system works and what it does.

We’ll then introduce some of the most common cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart failure. We’ll help you understand their effects on the body, why they happen and what can be done to prevent them. We’ll also highlight some wonderful resources from the British Heart Foundation including up to date statistics, patient leaflets and videos describing many of the tests that cardiac patients undergo.

In the final week, we’ll examine the risk factors for heart disease and what you can do keep your heart healthy.

Hands-on exercises to understand your own heart

Each week you’ll have the opportunity to get hands on and do a practical activity, helping you to apply the knowledge you’ll gain on the course, to better understand your own heart.

You can find out more about these activities in Natasha Barrett’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “A heart in your hands.”

Download video: standard or HD

What topics will you cover?

Week 1:

  • Introduction to the structure and function of the cardiovascular system, consisting of the circulatory system and the heart as a pump
  • The circulatory system – including the different blood vessels, the blood cells and plasma
  • The structure of the heart – including its four chambers, the major blood vessels that enter and exit the heart, the smaller blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with vital blood and oxygen and the heart valves that regulate the flow of blood through the heart
  • The cardiac cycle and how this relates to an ECG (electro cardiogram)
  • Investigation of the structure of the heart through a hands-on practical activity

Week 2:

  • Introduction to the process of atherosclerosis
  • What is angina?
  • Introduction to haemostasis and thrombosis
  • What is a heart attack?
  • What is a stroke?
  • Investigation of the effects of thrombosis through a hands-on practical activity

Week 3:

  • What is heart failure?
  • What is hypertension?
  • What is valvular disease?
  • What are arrhythmias?
  • Investigation of the effects of heart failure through a hands-on practical activity

Week 4:

  • Non-modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease including age, gender and genetics
  • Modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease including smoking, stress, cholesterol, obesity, diet, and physical activity
  • Lifestyle choices that can be made to try and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Calculating the risk of cardiovascular disease with the QRisk Cardiovascular Disease Risk Calculator
  • Investigation of one’s own life style choices

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Describe the structure and function of the cardiovascular system, including the circulatory system and heart
  • Describe the basis of several cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks, strokes, hypertension and heart failure
  • Evaluate the various risk factors that can contribute towards increasing a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Discuss some of the lifestyle choices that we can make to try and reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Apply theoretical knowledge and investigate a topic through practical activities
  • Investigate and process data
  • Investigate a topic and evaluate the reliability of your sources

Who is the course for?

This beginner’s course is aimed at anyone with an interest in how the heart works and the diseases that commonly affect it. It will help if you have a basic understanding of human biology, but we hope that we can explain things in a way that will be easy for anyone to understand. If you get stuck, you can always ask questions in the comments and other learners may be able to help you.

Who will you learn with?

I am a lecturer in cardiovascular biology and haematology at the University of Reading and the lead educator for Heart Health: A Beginner’s Guide to Cardiovascular Disease.

Who developed the course?

University of Reading

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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