There’s still a way to go to raise awareness for cardiovascular risk, based on a recent study that found one in five adults at risk for heart disease don’t recognise a need to improve their health.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. It’s usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries and an increased risk of blood clots.
Poor cardiovascular health can cause heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, chronic kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease and the onset of vascular dementia. Coronary heart disease is one of the single biggest killers in the UK. There are more than 100,000 hospital admissions each year due to heart attacks: that’s one every five minutes. Around 1.4 million people alive in the UK today have survived a heart attack. More than 900,000 people in the UK are living with heart failure.
Signs of CVD
Symptoms of heart disease vary based on what condition you have and can include:
- Chest pain
- Pain, weakness or numb legs and/or arms
- Very fast or slow heartbeat, or palpitations
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
CVD Risk Factors
The exact cause of CVD isn’t clear, but there are lots of things that can increase your risk of getting it. These are called “risk factors”, the more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing CVD.
If you’re over 40, you’ll be invited by your GP for a NHS Health Check NHS Health every 5 years. Part of this check involves assessing your individual CVD risk and advising you how to reduce it if necessary.
The main risk factors for CVD:
- High blood pressure – hypertension is one of the most important risk factors for CVD. If your blood pressure is too high, it can damage your blood vessels.
- Smoking – and other tobacco use is also a significant risk factor for CVD. The harmful substances in tobacco can damage and narrow your blood vessels.
- High cholesterol – cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood. If you have high cholesterol, it can cause your blood vessels to narrow and increase your risk of developing a blood clot.
- Diabetes – is a lifelong condition that causes your blood sugar level to become too high. High blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels, making them more likely to become narrowed. Many people with type 2 diabetes are also overweight or obese, which is also a risk factor for CVD.
- Inactivity – if you don’t exercise regularly, it’s more likely that you’ll have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and be overweight. All of these are risk factors for CVD.
- Being overweight or obese – increases your risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for CVD.
- Family history – if your father or brother were diagnosed with CVD before they were 55, or your mother or sister were diagnosed with CVD before they were 65. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have a family history of CVD. They may suggest checking your blood pressure and cholesterol level.
- Ethnic background – in the UK CVD is more common in people of south Asian and an African or Caribbean background. This is because people from these backgrounds are more likely to have other risk factors for CVD, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
- Age – CVD is most common in people over 50 and your risk of developing it increases as you get older.
- Gender – men are more likely to develop CVD at an earlier age than women.
- Diet – an unhealthy diet can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- Alcohol – excessive alcohol consumption can also increase your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and contribute to weight gain.
A healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of CVD. If you already have CVD, staying as healthy as possible can reduce the chances of it getting worse.
You can help reduce your risk by taking the below steps:
Stop smoking – if you smoke, you should try to give up as soon as possible. The NHS Smokefree website can provide information, support and advice to help. Your GP can also provide you with advice and support, and prescribe medication to help you quit.
Balanced diet – a healthy, balanced diet is recommended for a healthy heart.
A balanced diet should include:
- Low levels of saturated fat(found in foods such as fatty cuts of meat, lard, cream, cakes and biscuits) – try to include healthier sources of fat, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, and olive oil
- Low levels of salt – aim for less than 6g (0.2oz or 1 teaspoon) a day
- Low levels of sugar
- Plenty of fibre and wholegrain foods
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables – eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day
- Exercise regularly – adults are advised to do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. If you find it difficult to do this, start at a level you feel comfortable with and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activity as your fitness improves.
Maintain a healthy weight – if you’re overweight or obese, a combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose weight. Aim to get your BMI below 25. If you’re struggling to lose weight, your GP or practice nurse can help you come up with a weight loss plan and recommend services in your area.
Cut down on alcohol – if you drink alcohol, try not to exceed the recommended limit of 14 alcohol units a week for men and women. If you do drink this much, you should aim to spread your drinking over 3 days or more. Your GP can give you help and advice if you’re finding it difficult to cut down your drinking.
Medication – if you have a particularly high risk of developing CVD, your GP may recommend taking medication to reduce your risk. Medications that may be recommended include statins to lower blood cholesterol levels, low-dose aspirin to prevent blood clots, and tablets to reduce blood pressure.
The treatment option that is best for a person will depend on their specific type of CVD, but can include:
- Medication, such as to reduce low density lipoprotein cholesterol, improve blood flow, or regulate heart rhythm
- Surgery, such as coronary artery bypass grafting or valve repair or replacement surgery
- Cardiac rehabilitation, including exercise prescriptions and lifestyle counselling.
At Private GP Extra, patients have access to highly experienced GPs across the North West of England, at a time to suit them. Our doctors provide a personalised service, with continuity of care, for every person and can also offer a smooth and rapid onward referral to a cardiovascular specialist, if required. To book an appointment with one of our GPs, please visit https://www.privategpextra.com/appointments/ or call 0161 428 4464.