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World Heart Day on the 29th of September should prompt us all to reflect on our current lifestyle and ask of ourselves: Am I doing all I can to reduce my risk of heart disease? Consultant cardiologist Mark Tanner tells us how

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By Mark Tanner, Consultant Cardiologist


WE all know that heart disease is a major killer but you might not have reflected on its sheer scale recently. Coronary heart disease (CHD) results when the hearts own blood supply (the coronary arteries) becomes compromised and is the cause of over 90 000 deaths per year in the UK. The gradual accumulation of fatty deposits in the arterial walls (atherosclerosis) can result in narrowing of the vessels. In turn, blood flow to the heart and hence oxygen delivery is reduced. Like any muscle deprived of oxygen, the heart begins to ache. This pain is known as "angina" (derived from the Greek for "strangling"); a constricting sensation most commonly felt in the central chest, neck, and arms. If the blood supply to the heart is completely blocked (by blood clot forming on top of a narrowing) a heart attack (myocardial infarction) ensues.


So who gets coronary disease and what can you do to prevent it?


Your likelihood of developing CHD relates to a number of "risk factors". These include advancing age, gender (men have a 2-3 times increased risk), and a family history of premature CHD. Whilst theres not much you can do to influence these, there is still much to play for.


The following represent the so-called "modifiable" risk factors:



  • Smoking (Increases risk of heart attack by three times)

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Physical inactivity

  • Diabetes (2-3 times increased risk of CHD)

  • Obesity


The World Heart Federation estimates at least 80 per cent of premature cardiac deaths could be avoided if these risk factors are controlled. In short, our risk of coronary disease can be dramatically influenced by our lifestyle choices:



  • Stop Smoking! The single most important thing you can do to improve your cardiovascular health. Among ex-smokers CHD risk gradually returns to that of non-smokers.




  • Healthy Diet: Can have beneficial effects in terms of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the development of diabetes. Enjoy a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, starchy foods (rice, potatoes, pasta etc), and avoid saturated fats, sugar and salt. Oily fish (eg sardines, salmon, mackerel) are high in Omega-3 fats which seem to be particularly beneficial.




  • Regular Exercise: Studies have consistently demonstrated the cardio-protective effects of regular exercise. This does not have to involved a vigorous work-out at the gym; substantial benefits have been demonstrated in individuals undertaking regular walking (more than 3 hours per week).




  • Be Pro-active: Take a Lifestyle Check. The British Heart Foundation runs an excellent online service. Just enter your details and you will be provided with a personalised report with tips on how to improve your lifestyle (www.bhf.org.uk/heart-matters/lifestyle-check.aspx). Your GP can estimate your likelihood of developing CHD (Cardiovascular Risk Assessment) and subsequently provide advice or recommend treatment where necessary.


A scintilla of good news; a small amount of alcohol seems to have a favourable effect on the heart.


World Heart Day should prompt us all to reflect on our current lifestyle and ask of ourselves: Am I doing all I can to reduce my risk of heart disease? If the answer is yes then perhaps you can enjoy a celebratory glass of wine on World Heart Day!


For more information please contact Nuffield Health Chichester Hospital on 01243 530600 or visit www.nuffieldhealth.com/chichester


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