Cardiovascular diseases are the most common medical conditions worldwide, affecting around 1 in 7 people globally. We look at the causes of heart disease and how it can be prevented.
When we refer to heart disease, we're usually talking about the cardiovascular diseases. These include a range of heart and circulatory diseases including coronary heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia. Around one in four premature deaths in the UK are caused by heart disease – many of these can be prevented by taking medication, treating underlying health problems and making diet and lifestyle changes1.
What Causes Heart Disease?
More than 6,000 litres of blood are pumped through our circulatory system of veins and arteries daily. When plaques (fatty deposits) build up within these blood vessels, the heart has to work even harder to contract and push blood around our body. This build-up of plaques inside the veins and arteries is known as atherosclerosis – this is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. The amount of plaque inside of these blood vessels is affected by various risk factors2.
There are various risk factors linked with heart disease – these increase, or decrease your chances of developing the disease. Our age, gender and genetics are unmodifiable risk factors, meaning they can't be changed. Other risk factors can be changed by altering our diets and lifestyles.
Two major risk factors for developing heart disease are having high blood pressure and high cholesterol. They significantly raise a person's risk of developing the disease at some point in their lives. Having a close relative with cardiovascular disease can also raise your chances of developing one. This risk changes depending on when they were diagnosed, their relationship to you and their overall health.
How can I help lower my risk of heart disease?
By making changes to your diet and lifestyle, you may be able to help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. You should consult your GP before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle. If you want to help lower your risk of developing heart disease, the following advice is often given2,3:
- Get your blood pressure under control
- Manage your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with low amounts of salt
- Exercise regularly
- Find ways to effectively deal with stress
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Quit Smoking
To understand your risk of heart disease, you need to know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels - this normally requires a visit to your GP. There are home testing kits on the market that can be used to test cholesterol, CRP and blood sugar levels from a fingerprick of blood. Home blood pressure monitors are common in most health shops and supermarkets. These are generally accurate, but are not a substitute for a blood test and analysis from your GP.
As we age, the chance of us developing a cardiovascular disease increases so it's important to keep an eye on our heart and circulatory health. People aged 40 and over should have their risk factors checked every five years at the minimum3.