Sadly, heart disease is one of the most serious health problems affecting people in the UK. Today alone, 435 people will lose their lives as a result of heart disease.

Heart disease can be caused by a number of factors, but in actual fact, many of these are preventable. Learning more about heart disease can help you to keep it at bay, while raising awareness of the causes is something that everyone can do to play their part in beating heart disease and helping to lower the statistics.

Heart disease in the UK

Heart disease is a critical health issue in Britain, affecting millions of people every day. According to Heart UK, someone suffers a heart attack every 7 minutes. With so many people affected by heart disease each day, it is one of the biggest costs to the NHS, costing around £9 billion each year.

An unhealthy lifestyle is the largest contributor to heart disease, so as a result, the British Heart Foundation launched an in-depth study on the effects of low physical activity on heart health. This led to a number of other campaigns that encouraged people to get more active, not only to maintain a healthy weight but to ensure better cardiovascular health too.

Different types of heart disease and understanding the warning signs

‘Heart disease’ is an umbrella term for the collective types of cardiovascular disease. It’s important to note that there isn’t one type of heart disease, and that different types have different causes.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD), is the most common and well-known type of heart disease, and the one you’re likely to be most affected by. It happens as the result of a build-up within the arteries, which can lead to angina and heart attacks due to the heart not being able to function properly.

Warning signs

Suffers of CHD can experience a number of warning signs that might indicate that all isn’t working as it should. Chest pains are the most common symptom, with painful tightening around the left and centre of the chest. It can happen during physical activity or during times of stress but will often subside.

Sufferers may also notice that they are short of breath easily. Walking down the street or walking upstairs can start to become more difficult, while any bursts of physical activity can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath.

A heart attack is the most serious symptom of CHD. A heart attack can occur suddenly as the result of a blocked artery, and will cause crushing pain in the chest as well as the shoulder. Immediate treatment is needed if you or someone else starts displaying signs of a heart attack.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation refers to an abnormal heart rhythm that can lead to stroke. The electoral impulses that usually power the heart become disorganised, leading to an irregular pulse. While it is sometimes associated with CHD, other causes include high blood pressure, heart valve disease and high alcohol consumption. It can be controlled using warfarin and other drugs in order to reduce the chance of stroke, while lifestyle changes can also reduce the risk.

Warning signs

The warning signs of AF are typically detected in your pulse. If you start feeling palpitations or an irregular pulse, this could be a warning sign of AF. AF also leads to tiredness and can leave you feeling faint, so it’s important to get these symptoms checked out by a doctor if you start experiencing them.

Congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease is different to other types of cardiovascular disease as it is caused by birth defects rather than lifestyle choices. According to the NHS, congenial heart disease affects 9 in every 1,000 babies born in the UK. There aren’t many obvious causes, meaning it can be difficult to prevent, but it can develop in conjunction with other conditions such as Down’s syndrome.

Warning signs

The warning signs of congenital heart disease may not be clear immediately, and some of the symptoms that may occur over time include a rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing, tiredness (especially when feeding) and the skin having a blue tinge. Some symptoms might not present themselves until a child is older, so it’s important to keep an eye on your child’s health as they develop.

Beating heart disease by reducing your risk through a healthier diet

While not all types of heart disease are preventable, the most common can be prevented through maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet.

The British Heart Foundation advocates eating a healthy, balanced diet in order to beat heart disease. By keeping your weight at a heathy level, you help to reduce the risk of high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions which can develop alongside heart disease.

A balanced diet involves feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy. These are made of protein, fats, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Some tips for eating a more balanced diet include:

  • Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables (the five-a-day rule is a good one to follow to achieve this)
  • Eat meats that are lean and high in protein such as chicken and turkey. You can also eat pork, beef and lamb that is trimmed of its fat to make it leaner.
  • Avoid eating too much red meat and products such as bacon and sausage.
  • Keep portion size to a reasonable amount.
  • Eat at least two portions of fish a week, including oily fish such as salmon and fresh tuna which are rich in Omega-3s.
  • Avoid using excess oil to cook your food – consider steaming or grilling your food instead.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.
  • Avoid foods which are high in sugar, salt and fat. Processed and convenience foods are often rich in all three, so making more meals from scratch can help you control what you’re eating.

Where to find support and information about heart disease

If you’re concerned about heart disease, there are a number of resources available to you to help you find out further information. A visit to your GP can help identify health issues you might be facing, and they can also make some recommendations to help you improve your lifestyle.

The British Heart FoundationHeart UK and the NHS Choices websites offer a lot of valuable information covering everything from the different types of heart disease to how you can prevent it.

Knowing what to do in the event of a heart attack could help you save someone’s life, including your own. Spread awareness amongst your colleagues and friends and family to help them realise the severity of heart disease in the UK.

Beating heart disease is everyone’s responsibility and doing your part could help reduce those statistics to ensure a longer, healthier life for you and your family.