Each year, cardiovascular disease (CVD) claims approximately 19 million lives, solidifying its position as the world’s leading cause of death (and the second biggest in the UK) . The impact of CVD goes beyond the loss of lives; it also puts a significant financial strain on nations. In the UK alone, CVD-related expenses reach an estimated £8.96 billion each year . The sobering truth, however, is that nearly 80% of premature deaths caused by CVD are preventable . The prevalence of CVD caused the United Nations to announce a sustainable development goal of reducing CVD by a third by 2030 . This is where the significance of prioritising prevention through lifestyle modifications, regular check-ups and early intervention comes into play. By taking these measures seriously, we can make significant strides in reducing the prevalence of CVD (and therefore deaths) worldwide.
About World Heart Day
World Heart Day, sponsored by the World Heart Federation and held every year on 29 September, is designed to raise holistic awareness of CVD and the ways in which we can effectively control and mitigate its global impact . The event focuses on understanding warning signs, steps to fight the disease and ways to support those who are affected . Dedicated to the theme of ‘USE KNOW ’, this year’s World Heart Day focuses on the essential step of knowing our hearts first, enabling us to take care of our hearts and those around us by advocating the cessation of harmful habits and embracing healthier lifestyles .
Observing World Heart Day can be achieved in a variety of ways, offering you many ways to get involved. Individuals can designate the day for a health check-up, participate in fitness events (such as walking or cycling to work), and attend life-changing seminars covering topics such as performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and general health . Moreover, the World Heart Day challenge invites participants to walk, run or cycle in the shape of a heart that represents their town, village or city . Sharing these creations on social media or the World Heart Federation website using #WorldHeartDay will allow people to showcase their hearts and appreciate each other’s hearts .
Cardiovascular conditions in focus
To highlight the need for such an important day, it is essential to cover some of the key conditions that World Heart Day focuses on. Strokes, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and cardiac amyloidosis are among the cardiovascular diseases affecting millions worldwide.
A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients . It can be either haemorrhagic (a bleed on the brain) or ischaemic (a blood clot) . Recognising the signs using the acronym FAST (facial weakness, arm weakness, speech problems, time to call 999) is crucial for timely intervention .
Heart failure results from the heart’s inability to pump blood efficiently, leading to reduced supply of oxygen and nutrients to tissues [6,7]. Recognising early warning signs, such as shortness of breath, fatigue and leg swelling, can prompt early diagnosis and management .
Atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder involving irregular and rapid electrical impulses (fibrillation) in the upper chambers of the heart (atria) . Understanding the types of atrial fibrillation and its symptoms (such as dizziness and chest pain) is essential in managing this condition .
Cardiac amyloidosis is a rare disease characterised by the build-up of abnormal proteins (amyloid) in the heart tissue, which leads to stiffness and the potential impairment of normal heart function .
The path to stronger heart health
CVD is influenced by a variety of risk factors, some of which can be modified to lower the risk of CVD. These include high blood pressure, elevated levels of low-density lipoproteins, smoking, diabetes, being overweight, physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, and stress .
Promoting heart health involves understanding the role of lipoproteins, which transport fats around the body . High-density lipoproteins (HDLs) remove fats from arteries to the liver for digestion, whereas low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) carry fats to arteries, increasing the risk of CVD . Adopting healthier lifestyle choices and consuming certain foods, such as whole grains, omega-3-rich fish and high-fibre fruit, can have a positive impact on LDL levels .
Adopting healthy habits not only helps to reduce the risk of developing CVD but also promotes overall well-being.
- Regular physical activity strengthens the heart and improves circulation, leading to lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol levels .
- Avoiding tobacco use and limiting alcohol intake also play crucial roles in protecting the cardiovascular system .
- Additionally, managing stress through relaxation techniques or hobbies can have a positive impact on heart and mental health .
Such preventive measures are key for cardiovascular health and offer a promising path towards a healthier, happier future.
World Heart Day serves as a powerful reminder for each one of us to prioritise our heart health and take proactive steps towards a healthier future. By recognising the global impact of CVD, understanding its main risk factors and actively participating in heart-healthy initiatives, we can collectively make a big difference. So, let’s run, walk, cycle (or swim or skip!) in the shape of a heart in solidarity with hearts across the world.
The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content is for general information purposes only. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or medical condition.
1. World Heart Federation. World Heart Day: What is cardiovascular disease? Available at: https://world-heart-federation.org/world-heart-day/cvd-causes-conditions/what-is-cvd/. Accessed September 2023.
2. Public Health England. Action plan for cardiovascular disease prevention, 2017 to 2018. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/648190/cardiovascular_disease_prevention_action_plan_2017_to_2018.pdf#:~:text=Healthcare%20costs%20in%20the%20UK%20associated%20with%20CVD,and%20non-healthcare%20costs%20estimated%20at%C2%A0%E2%82%AC5.6%20billion%20%28~%C2%A34.04%20billion%29. Accessed September 2023.
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12. National Health Service. Conditions: High Cholesterol. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-cholesterol/how-to-lower-your-cholesterol/. Accessed September 2023.
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Author: Rachel Harris, Porterhouse Pathfinders Intern Summer 2023