Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the UK, contributing to 30% of all deaths each year. Conditions associated with the disease include angina, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and blood pressure.
A major contributor to the disease is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which occurs when cholesterol and other substances are deposited in the arteries of the heart, resulting in plaques that make them narrower. Because of this, less oxygen-rich blood is delivered to the heart muscle, which during periods of physical or mental stress can culminate in chest pain. If the plaque ruptures and forms a clot which blocks the artery altogether, a myocardial infarction (heart attack) occurs. Heart attacks, therefore, can be the first indication of underlying CAD.
How you can reduce your risk
Prevention is always better than cure. Below is a list of ways you can reduce your risk of developing CAD.
This can have a great impact on health and will help control weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. A healthy diet should include:
(i) 5 portions of fruits and vegetables a day.
(ii) Two portions of fish per week with at least one portion being an oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and fresh tuna.
(iii) Reducing the total amount of fat intake particularly saturated fats. This should be replaced with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
(iv) A reduction of salt intake (particularly for people with borderline, elevated or a family history of blood pressure).
Alcohol Intake Reduction
Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, whilst men should drink no more than 21 units. A unit of alcohol is roughly equal to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider; a pub measure (25ml) of spirits; or a standard pub measure (50ml) of wine, sherry or port.
It is important to try and get at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days or more a week. The exercise programme should involve a sustained level of activity sufficient to make breathing heavy but not puffing or panting.
After stopping smoking for a year, the risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.
Stress can cause blood pressure elevation that can cause cholesterol plaque rupture and heart attacks. Avoidance of stressful situations or engaging in activities to reduce or manage stress such as exercise, yoga, breathing and relaxation techniques can often be beneficial. Furthermore, stress can lead to adverse coping behaviour such as smoking, overeating and excess alcohol intake that can further increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Measure a cholesterol level
Cholesterol is important to maintain the integrity of all cells in the body. It is also needed to manufacture hormones and vitamins. However, too much cholesterol is associated with heart, stroke and circulation diseases. The total cholesterol level should generally be less than 5 mmol/l. If you have a history of angina/heart attacks, stroke, circulation problems or diabetes, then the cholesterol level should be less than 4 mmol/l. By far the commonest reason for an elevated cholesterol is dietary causes. However, there is a condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia that is found in 1 in 500 of the population. This condition is associated with significantly elevated cholesterol (more than 7.5mmol/l) and premature heart attacks less than 55 years in men and 60 years in women. Once diagnosed, immediate treatment with a tablet to lower cholesterol (a statin) as well as lifestyle changes is recommended.