Be Still My Cardiovascular System

Alt: A doodle presents another doodle with a box of chocolates, saying, “I love you with my WHOLE cardiovascular system.” This text is accompanied by the disclaimer, “NOT how people talk.”

This week, we’d like to have a heart-to-heart about… hearts. That’s right — we’re returning to our “use simpler words” series to have a little chat about “cardiovascular.”

Why? Because, dear readers, this 6-syllable (!) word is medical jargon — and most of the time, there’s a better alternative.

If you’re talking about cardiovascular health, you’re talking about heart health. And if you’re talking about a specific type of cardiovascular problem, well, there’s a specific name for it — like “heart attack” or “stroke.”

So instead of:

  • Getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week promotes cardiovascular health.
  • Smoking puts you at risk for cardiovascular problems.


  • Getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week helps keep your heart healthy.
  • Smoking puts you at risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

That said, there are situations where it’s helpful to use and define the more complex term — like if you’re writing content for people who’ve just been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. They’re sure to hear it again and again.

But even then, take a moment to make sure you’re using the best term. Sometimes, you may want to get even more specific for your audience and say something like “coronary artery disease.” If so, be sure to include a clear, plain language definition — for example, “Coronary artery disease happens when a fatty material called plaque builds up in the arteries (tubes) that carry blood to your heart.”

The bottom line: For most audiences, skip “cardiovascular.” Say “heart” instead — or get more specific.

Tweet about it: What’s with “cardiovascular”? @CommunicateHlth has a heart-to-heart about #HealthLit heart-health writing:


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