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Heart disease is on the rise - here's what you need to know

This British Heart Week, we’re raising awareness of the signs and checks associated with heart disease, as well as helping you to reduce your risk.

Heart disease is often referred to as the 'silent killer', with coronary heart disease being the single most common cause of death before 65 [1]. According to the British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter (27 per cent) of all deaths in the UK; that's more than 160,000 deaths each year – or one death every three minutes [2].

In 2017, the number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases before they reach their 75th birthday increased. The figures show an upward trend in deaths since 2014, with 42,384 people dying from conditions including heart attack and stroke in the UK before the age of 75 in 2017, compared to 41,042 three years earlier [3].

Furthermore, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that the number of deaths from heart and circulatory diseases in people under 65 was almost 13% higher than usual between May and July 2020. The British Heart Foundation believe that delays in people seeking care, coupled with reduced access to routine tests and treatments during the pandemic, have likely contributed to the rise in excess deaths [4].

This British Heart Week, we’re raising awareness of the signs and checks associated with heart disease, as well as helping you to reduce your risk.

What is heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels. It is usually associated with a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries which increases the risk of blood clot formation. Heart disease is often referred to as the 'silent killer', with coronary heart disease is one of the UK’s leading causes of death and the most common cause of premature death. Mistakenly, heart disease is often thought of as more of a male condition. Although it is true that men are more likely to get heart disease at a younger age than women, the number of cases and deaths from heart disease are actually spread fairly evenly across both sexes.

What are the signs of heart disease?

Angina is the term used to describe the most common symptoms of CHD. These include:

  • Chest pains
  • Feeling sick
  • Pain travelling through the body
  • Feeling faint
  • Shortness of breath

What are the risk factors for heart disease?

There are several risk factors for developing heart disease:

  • Having a family history of early heart disease
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Eating an unhealthy diet high in saturated fats
  • Being physically inactive

How to reduce my risk of heart disease?

1. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet

A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (5 portions a day) and whole grains. You should also limit your salt intake to no more than 6g per day and avoid too much sugar. Discover more ways to optimise your diet in order to keep your heart healthy.

2. Get moving more

Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine is the best way of maintaining a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight can reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure. Simple changes such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or parking a little further away from work can help to increase your physical activity.

3. Give up smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor of heart disease as it can cause the arteries to become clogged with fatty substances called plaques. Giving up smoking using free services such as NHS Smoke Free along with stop-smoking medicines, such as patches or gum will reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

4. Keep an eye on your blood pressure

Eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising regularly, and if needed taking medicine to lower your blood pressure will help you keep your blood pressure under control.

Your ideal blood pressure should be between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If its more than 140/90mmHg then you are likely to have high blood pressure, so you should discuss this with your GP. They will often prefer blood pressure readings that have been taken at home, as these better reflect what your blood pressure is like in day to day life. If you're going to see your GP about your blood pressure take along a diary of recent blood pressure readings.

5. Keep your diabetes under control

Having diabetes can put you at greater risk of developing heart disease. Being physically active and controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level.

How can I check if I am at risk of developing heart disease?

No one is perfect and it can be difficult to know if your lifestyle choices are having a negative impact on your health and increasing your risk of developing heart disease, especially as heart disease in its early stages has no obvious symptoms. Our Heart Disease Risk Blood Testis perfect for anybody wishing to assess their risk of heart disease, particularly those with a family history of the condition or who know that their lifestyle might put them at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Discover how Alison used Medichecks to investigate a family history of heart disease.

What is included in the Heart Disease Risk Check?

The Heart Disease Risk Blood Test looks at the main risk factors for heart disease including cholesterol and CRP-hs which is a measure of damaging inflammation.

1. Cholesterol status

The cholesterol status tests for triglycerides which are fatty particles found in the blood.

  • LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) is often referred to as the 'bad' cholesterol as these lipoproteins carry cholesterol, triglycerides and other fats to various tissues throughout the body. Too much LDL cholesterol can cause fatty deposits to accumulate on artery walls, potentially leading to the development of heart disease.
  • HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) which is often referred to as the 'good' cholesterol, is thought to have a protective role against heart disease risk as these lipoproteins remove fat from the arteries.
  • Non-HDL cholesterol, a measure of all the cholesterol in your blood that is not HDL cholesterol. This shows the levels of the 'bad' cholesterol that may eventually cause heart disease or a heart attack. Non-HDL cholesterol is thought to give a better indication of cardiovascular risk than focussing on LDL cholesterol alone.
  • The ratio of total cholesterol to HDL is more indicative than a total cholesterol result alone to find out whether your cholesterol levels are healthy. This ratio should be as low as possible.

2. Inflammation marker CRP-hs

C-Reactive Protein (CRP) is a marker used to assess whether there is inflammation in the body, however, it does not identify where the inflammation is located. A High Sensitivity CRP (CRP-hs) test is used to detect low-level inflammation in the body which is thought to damage blood vessels. Raised levels of CRP in the body increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, a heart attack or stroke.

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Heart disease is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK, but for many people, it can be largely prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle. A less than ideal result may not be all doom and gloom. The good news is your risk can be decreased by making healthier choices and a Heart Disease Risk Blood Test gives you the perfect tool to monitor your progress to see how your changes are improving your health.

References

1. https://heartuk.org.uk/press/press-kit/key-facts-figures

2. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics

3. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2019/may/heart-and-circulatory-disease-deaths-in-under-75s-see-first-sustained-rise-in-50-years

4. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/news-archive/2020/october/rise-in-excess-heart-and-circulatory-disease-deaths-in-under-65s