Heart disease and stroke

Tips for a healthy heartEating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of suffering from heart disease and stroke - the major causes of death worldwide. The number of deaths from heart disease have been decreasing in recent years but it is still the major cause of premature death (that is, before the age of 65) and a leading cause of ill health. But the good news is - it is largely preventable!

Heart disease occurs as a result of ‘bad cholesterol’ collecting within blood vessel walls and forming a hardened plaque through a process known as atherosclerosis. This causes the vessels to ‘fur up’ and narrow which reduces the flow of blood to the heart. This may cause chest pain, also known as angina. A heart attack occurs when the narrowed arteries feeding the muscle of the heart become blocked by a blood clot or other material associated with the damage to the arteries, starving the heart muscle of oxygen. A stroke results when the blockage occurs in a blood vessel feeding the brain, or a blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding in the brain.

Most of us don’t really think about our hearts until there is a problem. However, there are a number of things you can do to help keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of heart disease or a stroke.

Who is at risk?

There are a number of risk factors that you can’t change:

  • family history of heart disease
  • age
  • male sex
  • ethnic background (e.g. if you are of a South Asian background, you are more likely to be at risk of developing heart disease)
  • some existing medical conditions (e.g. type 2 diabetes (the commonest form) and haemachromatosis, (a condition where abnormal amounts of  iron are stored in the body)

However, there are a number of lifestyle behaviours that put you at increased risk that can be changed. The main ones are:

  • smoking
  • a poor diet
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • physical inactivity

These factors contribute to the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, which are some of the strongest risk factors for heart disease.

The more risk factors you have, the greater your personal risk, as their effects on your heart are cumulative. But  there are many things you can do to reduce your overall risk and keep your heart healthy. It’s never too late to start!