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According to the British Heart Foundation, there are an average of 22,000 hospital admissions each week in the UK, where a heart or circulatory disease is the main diagnosis. But did you know that by making healthier choices, the risk of heart disease or a heart attack can be lowered?

Here Professor Ronak Rajani, Consultant Cardiologist at The Harley Street Clinic, part of HCA Healthcare UK, highlights some of the risk factors to be aware of.

What is Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks in the UK. It’s a condition where the coronary arteries become clogged with plaque. Before a heart attack, one of the plaques will rupture, causing a blood clot to form at the site of the rupture. This clot can block the supply of blood to the heart and consequently cause a heart attack.

For some people, they will experience symptoms of coronary artery disease such as chest pains and breathlessness. But for others they will experience no symptoms and the condition can go undetected.

There are certain factors which can increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease. These include:

1. Smoking

We know that smoking comes with health risks, but what impact can it have on the heart in particular? Chemicals in cigarettes can make the walls of the arteries sticky, meaning fatty material can stick to them. If the arteries which carry blood from the heart get damaged and clogged, it can lead to a heart attack.

To improve heart health, it’s best to stop smoking or markedly limit the number of cigarettes consumed. 

2. Diabetes (type 1 & type 2)

For someone with diabetes, their body doesn’t make enough insulin, or can’t use the insulin it does make, and so the cells around the body won’t absorb enough glucose. This can then cause high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. If levels are high enough, they can damage the walls of the arteries, and make them more likely to develop fatty deposits. If these deposits build up, it can lead to coronary artery disease and potentially a heart attack. 

Lifestyle changes can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. It’s best to cut down on the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates, as they will increase blood sugar levels and insulin levels, which may lead to type 2 diabetes over time.

High Blood Pressure

Although arteries are stretchy to cope with fluctuating blood pressure, if a person’s blood pressure is consistently high, the arteries can lose their stretchiness and become stiff or narrow. This narrowing makes it easier for fatty material to clog them up. If this continues to be clogged, it can lead to a heart attack.

There are a number of things which can be done to reduce blood pressure, which include:

  • Reducing the amount of salt in your diet 
  • Cutting back on alcohol
  • Losing weight if overweight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Cutting back on caffeine
  • Stopping smoking
 
4 factors - Exercise

4. High cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance which can be found in the blood and is produced naturally in the liver. Whilst everyone needs cholesterol to stay healthy, having too much cholesterol can increase the risk of a heart attack.

To reduce cholesterol, similar tips to lowering blood pressure apply - eating healthy and exercising is key!

4 factors - eating healthier food

Prevention is better than cure

If your GP or cardiologist thinks that any of these risk factors are a cause for concern, or you’re reporting chest pain, they may refer you for a cardiac CT scan, which is used to try and identify some of the signs of heart disease.

New technology is also available called CaRi Heart, which enables doctors to see parts of the arteries that wouldn’t usually be able to be seen in a regular CT scan. A normal coronary CT scan would tell you about the plaque in the arteries and the narrowing of the heart arteries, whereas CaRi Heart looks outside of the heart arteries and vessel walls, looking at inflammation of the coronary arteries.

By understanding the health of your arteries and heart earlier, you can take proactive steps to managing it and in some cases, you can actually reverse the damage.

 
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