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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 secondsWelcome to Week One. My name is Dr Natasha Barrett, and I'm the lead educator for "Heart Health - A Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease." This week we're going to learn about the structure and function of the cardiovascular system. We'll introduce the anatomy and physiology of the blood vessels and the heart so that by the end of the week, you should be able to describe the structure of the cardiovascular system, including the circulatory system and the heart, and also describe the function of the system and how the heart works. So why is this important? Later in the course, we're going to look at specific cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, hypertension, and heart failure.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 secondsBut before we do that, it's important that we understand how the system works in health. By understanding how the cardiovascular system works in health, we can better understand what can go wrong, why, and how we can try to prevent it. Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest killers in the UK and worldwide. Most people consider cardiovascular disease to be a condition that affects only men, but actually it affects a similar number of men and women each year. What differs is the age at which it affects men and women and the specific types of cardiovascular disease that affect them.

Skip to 1 minute and 29 secondsLots of progress has been made in the understanding, treatment, and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, and this has led to a reduction in the number of cases over the last few decades. Looking at the statistics on cardiovascular disease provided by the British Heart Foundation in their publication "Coronary Heart Disease Statistics 2012," we can see that cardiovascular disease causes one in three deaths. Cancer also causes one in three deaths, and the remaining third are thought to be due to things like injuries and infections. With nearly 180,000 people dying of cardiovascular disease in the UK each year, that's nearly 500 people per day. Looking more globally, the UK actually has a lower rate of cardiovascular disease than the EU average.

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 secondsEastern Europe tends to have slightly higher rates of cardiovascular disease, whilst in Western Europe, the UK still has a relatively high level with only Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Sweden having higher rates. Having said that, the UK has one of the fastest falling rates of cardiovascular disease. For those under the age of 75, cardiovascular disease rates have actually dropped by 44% in the last 10 years. The major contributing factor to this is thought to be the reduction in the major risk factors, primarily the reduction in smoking, and this is thought to account for about 60% of the reduction. The remaining 40% of the reduction is thought to be due to improvements in diagnosis and treatment.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 secondsThis stems from the important research that clinicians and scientists are carrying out around the world. Now that we know the consequences of cardiovascular disease, we can start by beginning to understand the structure of the cardiovascular system.

Why is it important to understand cardiovascular disease?

In this video, Dr Natasha Barrett introduces the course and explains why it’s important to understand cardiovascular disease, including a look at some of the shocking statistics surrounding heart disease in the UK.

Throughout the course we’ll use medical and scientific terms that you may not have heard before. We’ve produced a downloadable glossary that you can refer to if there are any words you don’t understand.

Learning objectives

In order to understand cardiovascular disease, first we need to learn about the anatomy and function of the cardiovascular system. By the end of this week you should be able to:

  • Describe the overall structure of the cardiovascular system, consisting of the circulatory system and the heart as a pump
  • Describe the function of the cardiovascular system
  • Describe the different blood vessel types
  • Describe each of the blood cells and plasma
  • Describe the structure of the heart including its four chambers
  • Describe the major blood vessels that enter and exit the heart, and the smaller blood vessels that supply the heart muscle with vital blood and oxygen
  • Describe the heart valves and their function in regulating the flow of blood through the heart
  • Describe the cardiac cycle and how this relates to an ECG (electro cardiogram)

Are there any additional reasons, not mentioned in the video, why it is important to understand cardiovascular diseases?


The content in this course was filmed in 2014. Although many of the statistics given in this course haven’t changed significantly, there has been some progress in identifying and treating cardiovascular conditions since then. More up to data statistics (Cardiovascular Disease Statistics 2015) can been accessed through the British Heart Foundation web pages here.

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This video is from the free online course:

Heart Health: A Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease

University of Reading

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