World Heart Day is an initiative of the World Heart Federation, which takes place on 29 September every year, to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The campaign this year, entitled ‘Your heart, my heart’, is focused on looking after your own heart and the hearts of others: to make a promise as an individual to take steps to reduce your CVD risk, improve the cardiovascular health of those around you and set a good example for the next generation .
At Porterhouse Medical, we are proud and passionate about the work we do with our partners to help improve people’s lives. In this instance, we would like to share some facts about cardiovascular health and ways to improve it.
CVD encompasses a wide range of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), congenital heart disease, heart valve disease and cardiomyopathy. CHD usually stems from atherosclerosis – the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries (atheroma), resulting in an increased risk of blood clots. The atheroma can narrow the arteries around the heart so much that blood flow slows, causing chest pains (angina). When there is not enough oxygen-rich blood flowing to the heart muscles, they can weaken, resulting in heart failure; when the heart fails, it cannot pump blood around the body effectively. Alternatively, the atheroma could get dislodged, creating a blood clot that could block any blood vessel; a blockage in a vessel that supplies blood to the heart or brain could lead to heart attack or stroke, respectively. Conditions such as hypertension and vascular dementia can also arise as a result of atherosclerosis .
Individuals with a family history of CHD have an increased risk of developing the condition. Family history is defined as having a father or brother who was diagnosed with CHD at 55 years old or younger, or having a mother or sister diagnosed with CHD at 65 years old or younger. Additionally, CHD is most common in people of South Asian, African or Caribbean descent because of risk factors, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, being more common in these ethnic groups. Individuals with a particularly high risk of developing CHD can be offered medications such as statins to lower blood cholesterol, and aspirin to help prevent blood clots. However, there are certain steps that can be taken by anyone to help minimise their risk of developing heart disease; these are discussed below .
Tips for a healthier heart
- Living smoke free: Both carbon monoxide and nicotine in cigarette smoke can put a strain on the heart by making it work faster. Additionally, smoking weakens the lining of arteries, leading to an increased risk of blood clot. Giving up smoking is the best way to limit this CHD risk; the NHS can provide support for this (https://www.nhs.uk/smokefree).
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet: Eating habits can really have an impact on your CVD risk.
- High blood cholesterol levels: Cholesterol is a fat made in the liver that is essential for healthy cells; however, too much cholesterol can build up in the blood and lead to atherosclerosis. A diet composed of low levels of saturated fats (found in fatty cuts of meat, cakes, creams and lard) and a healthy source of fats from oily fish, nuts and olives is recommended.
- High blood pressure: Hypertension puts strain on the heart and damages blood vessels, making it one of the most important risk factors for CHD. It is recommended that you consume low levels of salt – no more than 6 g (a teaspoon) a day – to reduce this risk.
- High blood sugar levels: Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Regularly high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, making them more likely to narrow. Not regularly consuming foods that are high in sugar can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and, by extension, CHD.
- Getting active: Lack of regular exercise is associated with increased blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, which are all risk factors for CHD. Regular exercise of 150 minutes a week, which can include brisk walking, cycling, swimming and dancing, is recommended.
- Managing your weight: Being overweight or obese – having a body mass index over 25, or a waist measurement over 94 cm if you are a man or over 80 cm if you are a woman – is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which are all risk factors for CHD. There are weight management groups that can help individuals to achieve healthy weight goals through encouraging healthy diet and regular exercise.
- Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol: Alcohol consumption can contribute to weight gain, high cholesterol and hypertension, which can all lead to increased risk of CVD. No more than 14 units should be drunk a week, which should be spread over 3 or more days – binge drinking should be avoided.
If you would like to find out more about World Heart Day and how to get involved, please visit the World Heart Federation website: https://www.world-heart-federation.org/world-heart-day.
- About World Heart Day 2018. Available at: https://www.world-heart-federation.org/world-heart-day/about/. Accessed September 2018.
- Cardiovascular disease. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/conditions/cardiovascular-disease. Accessed September 2018.
- Prevention: Coronary heart disease. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronary-heart-disease/prevention/. Accessed September 2018.