Cardiovascular disease – what you need to know
Cardiovascular disease costs the UK £19 billion a year – 46% in healthcare costs, 34% from lost productivity and 20% in family carers. So, what is it?
Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is a medical term for conditions which affect the blood vessels and heart. The four main types of CVD are:
Aortic disease: this can cause weakening, tearing and life-threatening bleeding in the main blood vessel in the body.
Coronary heart disease (CHD): CHD occurs when the blood flow to the heart is reduced, increasing strain on the heart and leading to angina, heart attacks and heart failure.Coronary Heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK, causing 73,000 deaths each year.
Peripheral arterial disease: is caused by narrowing or blockages in the arteries to the limbs, usually effecting the legs. It causes pain when walking, numbness, weakness, localised hair loss and open sores (ulcers) on the legs and feet.
Stroke: A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This will cause brain damage, or death. Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) – a TIA, or ‘mini-stroke’, is similar to a stroke, but the blood supply to the brain is only partially or temporarily cut off.
There are lots of risk factors that can increase your chance of developing CVD. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing it.
- High cholesterol: causes blood vessels to narrow and increases the risk of a blood clot.
- Diabetes: high blood sugar damages and narrows blood vessels.
- Diet: a diet high in fats and sugars can lead to cholesterol build up and high blood pressure.
- Drinking too much alcohol: can increase weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Ethnicity: people of African, Caribbean and South Asian descent have a higher incidence of CVD.
- Family history: you are at greater risk of CVD if your brother/father was diagnosed before 55 or your mother/sister before 65.
- Gender: men have a higher chance of developing CVD at an earlier age.
- Hypertension: high blood pressure damages blood vessels. This is one of the most significant risk factors for CVD.
- Smoking: the harmful substances found in tobacco can cause damage or narrowing of blood vessels.
- Weight: being overweight/obese increases blood pressure and the likelihood of developing diabetes.
Can we beat CVD?
CVD isn’t curable, but it can be managed through lifestyle changes and medication. However, CVD can be preventable. And the good news is that it’s not hard to prevent. The best way is to keep yourself healthy.
If you’re smoker, quit. Smoking is one of the greatest risk factors for CVD. Your GP and pharmacist can help you quit smoking with referrals to support groups, cessation services and by prescribing nicotine replacements aids.
A healthy diet is also important – cut down on saturated fat, reduce sugar and salt intake, skip processed food and eat more fibre. This will help you manage your weight.
Alcohol also contains a lot of calories, so cutting down on how much you drink will help.
Another factor for CVD is how much you move. Adults should be aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week (activity which leaves you warm and slightly breathless).
Once you reach 40, you’ll be invited for an NHS Health check every five years with your GP. This check-up involves assessing your personal CVD risk.
If you have a high risk of developing CVD, your GP may prescribe medication such as statins to lower cholesterol and aspirin.
Dr Alexandra Phelan is a working NHS GP and Online Doctor with Pharmacy2U. Visit www.pharmacy2u.co.uk for further information.