Could you be at risk?

older asian couple outside

You are more likely to develop heart disease if you:

  • have a family history of heart disease with a father or brother under the age of 55 or mother / sister under the age of 65 when diagnosed;
  • are of South Asian origin – if you live in the UK but your family is originally from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, you are one and a half times more likely to die from coronary heart disease before the age of 75 than the rest of the UK population
  • are a smoker or used to smoke
  • are not physically active
  • have high blood cholesterol - particularly the type of cholesterol known as LDL cholesterol
  • have high blood pressure
  • have diabetes
  • are overweight

What about gender?

You may think heart disease and heart attacks are mainly a problem for men but women are at risk too, particularly after the menopause. So men and women need to be alert to the symptoms and do the same things to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Can you reduce your risk?

You should make an appointment with your GP practice if your family history or ethnicity suggests you could be at risk of heart disease. 

They can check your blood pressure and cholesterol and take account of your other risk factors,  before discussing the steps you could take to reduce your risk.  

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you probably know you are at increased risk of coronary heart disease and have been offered support to make the lifestyle changes described below. You may be taking prescribed medication to manage your diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol.

Even if the above risk factors don’t apply to you, eating a healthy diet and keeping physically active has benefits not just for your heart. It also helps reduce your risk of stroke and dementia – both are more likely if arteries in your brain are narrowed by the build up of fatty substances.

Helping you make changes

You can use the lifestyle quizzes and checklists on the NHS Choices website to see how close you are to meeting current guidelines on eating, physical activity and alcohol. You’ll also find tips on how to fit any changes into your daily routine.

The British Heart Foundation can also help you to improve your heart health.

These suggestions can help you on your way:
• If you smoke, take steps to stop. This is the most significant change you can make. The difficulties of giving up smoking are well known, so ask your GP or practice nurse how the NHS can help you. You may have the choice of one-to-one sessions or joining a local group so you can share experiences and tips with others who are trying to give up. Nicotine products and other medication are available on prescription. You may prefer to look on the NHS Smokefree website for more information or call their helpline for advice.

• Check out your diet – it should be one that has plenty of fruit and vegetables, plenty of starchy foods such as bread and potatoes and is low in sugar, salt and fat, particularly saturated fat.

• Do you drink too much? – although some research suggests some alcohol might be good for your heart, binge drinking and drinking more than the recommended units each week is not. Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. 

• Do you take enough regular exercise? – aim for activities that you enjoy, are relatively easy to build into your daily routine and that make you feel slightly breathless but do not cause pain or discomfort. Building up to 30 minutes on 5 days a week is recommended. As well as increasing your fitness, it can help control your weight, blood cholesterol and blood pressure.

If you’ve had a heart attack, there is medication you can take and lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of further heart problems. See the section on treatment

Recognising symptoms

The symptoms of angina and a heart attack can be similar – a pain, ache or tightness in the chest that can spread down your arm and to other parts of your upper body. So if you haven’t been diagnosed with heart disease or angina and you experience the symptoms described below, you should call 999 immediately for advice.

If you have been diagnosed with angina but your symptoms don’t disappear when you take your medication or if they feel more like the classic symptoms described below, you should call 999 for advice.
Symptoms can vary from one person to another but these are the ones to remember.

Classic symptoms include:

• central chest pain that may or may not be accompanied by sweating, feeling sick or breathlessness;
• chest pain that spreads to your arm, neck or jaw.

Less common symptoms include:
• dull pain, ache or heaviness in your chest;
• chest pain that spreads to your back or stomach;
• rather than a pain in your chest, mild discomfort that makes you feel generally unwell;
• chest pain along with feeling light-headed or dizzy
• chest pain that feels like a bad dose of indigestion
Women having a heart attack are more likely to experience the less common symptoms and before a heart attack they may feel tired, have problems sleeping, experience shortness of breath or have indigestion.

If you experience any of the symptoms described above don’t delay, you might be having a heart attack. Call 999 and explain your symptoms to the operator. 

We are grateful for the generous support of Sir Naim Dangoor CBE
and the Exilarch Foundation

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