Last updated on 23 Nov 2016
Heart disease is the single most common cause of death in the UK. It is also the single most common cause of death for people aged under 65 years old. There are currently approximately 2.6 million people living with heart disease in this country.
What is Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease (CHD) occurs when your arteries become blocked and restrict the blood and oxygen supply to your heart. This process can result in angina (a heaviness or tightness in the chest) or a heart attack.
Common indicators of heart disease are breathlessness, chest pain and fluid retention. The main causes are as follows:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history of heart disease
- Lack of exercise
- Heavy drinking of alcohol
Your risk of heart disease is higher if you are black or Asian. Women also have a higher risk after the menopause, when oestrogen levels in the body drop. For more information on this, see our section on Menopause.
Ways to help prevent heart disease
There are many steps that you can take to reduce your chances of developing heart disease:
Stop smoking - Stopping smoking is the single most important thing you can do to live longer. If you smoke, your chances of developing heart disease are at least double that of a non-smoker. The good news is that the risk decreases as soon as you stop smoking. One year after giving up, your risk of a heart attack is halved.
Eat a healthy diet - Lower your cholesterol level by eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and by cutting down on salt, meat, poultry, fish, seafood and dairy products. Only drink alcohol in moderation.
Exercise - Regular exercise will strengthen your heart muscle and will also lower your blood pressure.
Keep calm - There is a link between stress and metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases the risk of developing heart disease.
Get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked by your GP - People with high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol in the blood run a higher risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. Have your levels checked, so that you know whether you need to change your lifestyle to reduce the risk.
Heart disease and heart attacks
Heart disease is the leading cause of heart attacks. With Coronary Heart Disease, the coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that supply blood to the heart) get clogged up with deposits of cholesterol. These deposits are called plaques.
Before a heart attack, one of the plaques bursts, causing a blood clot to develop which may then block the supply of blood running through the coronary artery, triggering a heart attack.
See our article on Heart attacks for more information.
Local Help and Support
All GPs should now keep registers of people with coronary heart disease, so that they can identify who would benefit from having regular reviews.The Patient Information Centre offers a range of health related information including;
- medical conditions
- procedures and treatments
- details about self help and support groups
- information about complaints procedures
- copies of leaflets
For information and guidance on improving your home to meet your needs better please visit the Housing section of Information Now website.
Other Useful Information
- The British Heart Foundation website has more information on all of the above.
- Heart Research UK has produced a leaflet called Healthy Heart, Happy Life, which provides further advice on how to look after your heart.
- Heart Research UK
- HEART UK
- NHS Choices
Please note - The content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you are feeling unwell, make an appointment to see your GP or contact NHS Direct. In an emergency, dial 999.