The signs, symptoms, and causes of heart disease
We explain the common symptoms of coronary heart disease and how to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is often referred to as the silent killer - with coronary heart disease being the single most common cause of death before 65 .
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 .
Coronary heart disease (CHD; also known as ischaemic heart disease) is the most common type of heart disease. CHD is also the most common cause of heart attack and was the single biggest killer of both men and women worldwide in 2019 .
Over the last 30 years, deaths and disabilities from cardiovascular disease have been steadily rising across the globe . 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 .
In this blog, we look at:
- What is heart disease?
- How to reduce your risk of heart disease
- How to check your risk of heart disease
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.
Mistakenly, heart disease is often thought of as more of a male condition. Although men are more likely to get heart disease at a younger age than women, the number of cases and deaths from heart disease are 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 coronary heart disease (CHD).
Symptoms of angina include:
- Chest pain
- 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, including:
- Having a family history of early heart disease
- Having high cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Having diabetes
- Eating an unhealthy diet high in saturated fats and ultra-processed foods (like chocolate, ice cream, crisps, and chocolate)
- Being physically inactive
How to reduce your 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 (five portions a day) and wholegrains.
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 our blog: eat to beat heart disease.
2. Get moving more
Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Being 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. To help, we have also put together some tips on how to get moving more without going to the gym.
3. Give up smoking
Smoking is a major risk factor for 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, can 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 can help you keep your blood pressure under control.
Your ideal blood pressure should be between 90/60 mmHg and 120/80mmHg. If it’s more than 140/90mmHg then you are likely to have high blood pressure, so you should discuss this with your GP.
You can read more about high blood pressure in our blog: high blood pressure: causes, risks, and prevention.
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 harming 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 Test can help you assess your risk of heart disease, which may be particularly important if you have a family history of the condition or who know your lifestyle might put you 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 (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) - 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) - often referred to as the 'good' cholesterol, HDL 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 focusing 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.
- 2022. [online] Available at: <https://heartuk.org.uk/press/press-kit/key-facts-figures> [Accessed 10 October 2022].
- British Heart Foundation. 2022. Heart Statistics. [online] Available at: <https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics> [Accessed 10 October 2022].
- Bhf.org.uk. 2022. Facts and figures. [online] Available at: <https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/news-from-the-bhf/contact-the-press-office/facts-and-figures#:~:text=Heart%20and%20circulatory%20diseases%20cause,men%20and%203.6%20million%20women> [Accessed 10 October 2022]..
- NHLBI, NIH. 2022. Cardiovascular disease is on the rise, but we know how to curb it. We’ve done it before. [online] Available at: <https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2021/cardiovascular-disease-rise-we-know-how-curb-it-weve-done-it#:~:text=Over%20the%20last%2030%20years,third%20of%20all%20deaths%20worldwide> [Accessed 10 October 2022].
- Bhf.org.uk. 2022. Rise in excess heart and circulatory disease deaths in under 65s since pandemic began. [online] Available at: <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> [Accessed 10 October 2022].
Heart Disease Risk Home Blood Test
Advanced Heart Disease Risk Blood Test
Health and Lifestyle Home Blood Test