Looking after your heart health is incredibly important. Most people don’t find out that they are at risk of or have developed coronary heart disease until they experience chest pain or heart attack.
Whether you are living with a heart condition, at risk or in good health, there are many things you can do to strengthen and protect your heart.
Read on to find out who is most at risk of coronary heart disease and how you can lower your risk.
What is coronary heart disease?
Coronary heart disease – also known as coronary artery disease – happens when the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood narrow or become blocked with plaque. It is the most common cause of death in Australia.
Plaque is formed by cholesterol building up on the walls of the blood vessels. Over time, this can cause the blood vessels to narrow and stiffen, reducing the amount of blood that can get to the heart muscle.
If you have reduced blood supply to your heart muscle, you may feel pain in your chest or be short of breath. You are also at risk of a heart attack.
Sometimes, bits of the plaque can come loose and damage the blood vessel, resulting in a blood clot which can cause a complete blockage. When the heart muscle doesn’t receive enough blood it is called a heart attack.
Who is most at risk of coronary heart disease?
There is no single cause of coronary heart disease. Some of the risk factors may be in your control, such as lifestyle choices, but others may be out of your control, such as your age or ethnic background.
Risk factors that you have some control over include:
- Smoking (and passive smoking)
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Risk factors that you can’t change include:
- Family history – people who have a family history of coronary artery disease are at higher risk.
- Being male – there are higher cases of men developing coronary artery disease than women.
- Age – older people have an increased risk.
- Ethnic background – some ethnic backgrounds are at higher risk, including South Asian, Māori and Pasifika people.
- Mental health – people with severe mental health conditions may be at higher risk.
Can you reduce your risk of coronary heart disease?
Making changes in your day to day habits can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease. If you are already living with the condition, lifestyle changes can help you better manage your health and lower your risk of a heart attack.
Some things that you can do to reduce your risk include:
Eating a healthy diet
Some types of food will help protect and strengthen your heart while others will add to the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.
Stay away from foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats and salt. Instead, eat lots of vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats found in fish, nuts and seeds.
Regular exercise will help strengthen your heart and can also help lower your blood pressure. Try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. Do a combination of aerobic or cardio exercises as well as strength-building exercises.
Losing weight may help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Make sure you speak to a professional to ensure you lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way.
Smoking damages your heart and causes further narrowing of your arteries. Quitting today will help reduce your risk immediately. It will also protect your family from the risks of passive smoking.
Reduce your alcohol consumption
Excessive drinking can lead to higher blood pressure, obesity and even heart failure. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for how much alcohol you should drink at any one time as well as how much is appropriate over a week.
Manage your stress levels
We all get stressed out sometimes, but if you feel continually overwhelmed or stressed, it could contribute to higher blood pressure. Try relaxation techniques and mindfulness exercises to help manage your stress levels.
What’s the difference between coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease?
Coronary heart disease is a specific condition relating to the buildup of plaque in the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood.
Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that refers to a range of different conditions which affect the cardiovascular system (the heart and the blood vessels).
The term “heart disease” refers to a group of different conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart. All heart diseases are cardiovascular diseases, but not all cardiovascular diseases are heart diseases.
Sometimes people refer to coronary heart disease as simply “heart disease” but the term actually covers a range of other conditions as well.
What’s the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest?
A heart attack occurs when there is a lack of blood supply to the heart muscle. A person experiencing a heart attack is usually conscious. The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary artery disease.
Cardiac arrest is an electrical failure of the heart. A person who is experiencing cardiac arrest will be unconscious and require CPR or defibrillation from a device such as the Heartsine 360p defibrillator or a Zoll defibrillator.
Cardiac arrest can be caused by a number of things, including heart disease, trauma, breathing issues or allergic reactions.
What is World Heart Day?
World Heart Day was created by the World Heart Federation to spread awareness about heart health and cardiovascular diseases, including coronary artery disease.
It is held on September 29th each year. Communities, governments and organisations across the world participate in activities to help promote better heart health.
World Heart Day is a great opportunity to raise awareness about the different conditions that can affect our hearts, and how we can take better control of our health to protect ourselves and the people we love. It also provides a safe space to talk about heart health and take part in training to ensure we know how to deal with a heart attack situation.