HEART DISEASE

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What is heart disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is what happens when the blood supply to your heart is blocked. It’s a term that covers many conditions, including:

  • Arrhythmia - An abnormal heartbeat. This can be either too fast or too slow.
  • Atherosclerosis - When the arteries become hard as a result of high cholesterol.
  • Endocarditis - A rare bacterial infection of the heart.

These issues can lead to potentially fatal health problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. Sadly, heart disease is one of the most common health issues in the UK. According to the British Heart Foundation, it’s responsible for one in four deaths every year.

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Heart disease symptoms

Unfortunately, the main symptoms of heart failure tend to be serious medical issues, some of which can be fatal. They include:

Angina

The most common symptom of heart disease, which occurs when your arteries are partially blocked. Symptoms of angina include chest pain and tightness in the chest, jaw, neck, arms, back or stomach. You may also feel breathless and have a fast heart rate. These symptoms usually pass after around ten minutes.

You may notice that certain activities or situations trigger your angina, such as vigorous exercise or stress.

Heart attack

While angina is caused by partially blocked arteries, heart attacks occur when an artery becomes completely blocked.

The most important thing you need to know about heart attacks is that if you think you’re having one, you should dial 999 immediately. A heart attack can cause permanent damage and even prove fatal if not treated promptly.

Signs of a heart attack include:

  • Pain in your chest, arms, jaw, neck, back and stomach that lasts longer than 15 minutes
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea

Unlike angina, heart attacks also don’t require a trigger and can often occur out of nowhere, even while you’re resting. They also can’t be relieved by medication - you need hospital treatment as soon as possible.

Heart failure

This occurs when your heart muscle is too weak to successfully pump blood around your body. This can lead to a fluid build-up in the lungs that makes it hard to breathe.

If you’re having a heart attack or showing signs of heart failure, please call 999 straight away, as you need emergency medical treatment.

Heart disease symptoms

How is heart disease diagnosed?

As the outcome of heart disease can have a significant impact on your health, or even be fatal, doctors will focus on trying to prevent it. They do this by assessing risk factors, such as your family history, blood pressure and cholesterol level.

Our doctors can arrange for a blood test kit to be sent to your home. The test is quick, painless and comes with a full set of instructions. You can collect a sample at home and send it to our lab for testing, then discuss your results with one of our doctors. If you prefer, they can also arrange for you to take this test at your local surgery.

If the results of these tests suggests you may be at risk of heart disease, our doctors can refer you to a specialist for further testing, which will confirm your diagnosis.

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Heart disease treatment

Lifestyle changes

You can lower your risk of heart disease through a range of lifestyle changes. The big three are eating a healthy diet, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day and not smoking.

You can also adopt these changes after you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease. Doing so will lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, so it’s important you follow the advice given by your doctor.

Medication

Medication can be used to treat a number of different issues that cause heart disease, such as high blood pressure or narrow arteries. If necessary, our doctors can prescribe these medicines and we can arrange for you to collect them from a local pharmacy.

It’s important that you understand exactly why you’re being given medication and what the possible side effects could be. You must continue taking the medication for as long as your doctor tells you, as stopping suddenly can cause dangerous symptoms.

Common heart disease medicines include:

  • Blood thinners will reduce the risk of blood clots. Sometimes a low dose of aspirin is recommended for older patients.
  • Statins reduce your cholesterol level, so you may be prescribed them if a blood test reveals your cholesterol is too high.
  • Beta-blockers help lower your blood pressure by slowing your heart rate down. You may be given these if you have high blood pressure or have previously had an angina attack.
  • ACE inhibitors and Angiotensin receptor antagonists treat high blood pressure by suppressing a hormone that narrows your arteries.
  • Nitrates can be used to widen your blood vessels, allowing more blood to pass through them.
  • Calcium channel blockers relax the muscles in your artery walls, causing them to widen and lower your blood pressure.

Surgery

If these treatments haven’t worked, our doctors can refer you to a specialist to investigate the possibility of surgery.

  • Angioplasty- A balloon is inserted into the artery to push out whatever’s causing your arteries to narrow. A wire tube called a stent will be put in place to hold the artery open. It can be offered as a precautionary measure, or as an emergency procedure.
  • Heart bypass - If a section of your artery has become too narrow for blood to flow through, a surgeon will add a blood vessel that runs from your heart to just past the point where your artery is blocked. This gives your blood a new route to flow through.
  • Heart transplant - As a last resort, if your heart is damaged beyond repair it may need to be replaced with a healthy donor heart.
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What causes heart disease?

Heart disease usually occurs when your arteries become too narrow for blood to flow through them properly, or if there’s something blocking the artery. To find out why heart disease happens, we must look at what causes these problems.

Reasons for this include:

  • High blood pressure - This makes your heart work much harder than normal and can eventually lead to heart disease.
  • High cholesterol - A diet that’s high in low density lipoprotein (LDL), otherwise known as ‘bad’ cholesterol, can cause plaque to build up on your artery walls. Over time, this can cause your arteries to narrow, preventing blood from passing through. Learn more about High cholesterol

     

  • Smoking - The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the lining of your arteries and increase your risk of blood clots. Get help with smoking

  • Diabetes - One of the symptoms of diabetes is that the lining of your blood vessels becomes thicker, which makes it harder for blood to flow through them. Diabetes is thought to more than double your risk of heart disease.

     

  • Blood clots - A blood clot will block your artery and most likely lead to a heart attack.

     

  • Obesity - Being overweight won’t necessarily cause heart disease on its own, but it is strongly linked with genuine causes such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. An unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise can lead to obesity.

     

  • Family history - while not a direct cause, it can increase your risk of heart disease. This is particularly true if you have a close male relative who had heart disease before the age of 55, or a close female relative who had heart disease before the age of 65.

     

What Causes High Cholesterol

Congenital heart disease

This is a birth defect that affects around nine in 1,000 babies in the UK. Unfortunately, the cause of congenital heart disease isn’t always obvious. It can sometimes occur if the mother suffers certain medical issues during pregnancy, such as diabetes or rubella.

A baby can be born with issues such as a hole in the heart, or a narrowed artery or pulmonary valve. Symptoms such as a fast heartbeat, fast breathing, sweating, extreme tiredness and even a blue tinge to the skin can become noticeable soon after birth.

Some cases of congenital heart disease are mild and have minimal impact on a child’s life. However, others may require surgery and the person will need to be monitored throughout their life to deal with any symptoms as they arise. Some people can have their lifespans shortened by the condition.

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Heart disease advice online

If you’re worried that you might be at risk of heart disease, you can book an appointment with one of our doctors to discuss ways in which you can lower your chances of health issues developing. Our GPs are available from 6am - 11pm, 7 days a week and you can have an appointment on your phone, tablet or computer.

If you’re having a heart attack or showing signs of heart failure, please call 999 straight away, as you need emergency medical treatment.

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