Heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply your heart with blood become narrowed by the build-up of fat within the walls of the artery; this is called atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis affects your arteries’ ability to properly supply your heart with the oxygen-rich blood it needs to function properly as the narrowing obstructs the flow of blood. Over time your arteries narrow to such an extent that not enough blood gets to the heart, this can cause pain called angina (pain from the heart/chest pain).If a piece of the fat that has built up in artery breaks away it can cause a blood clot and suddenly cut off the blood supply to the heart resulting in serious damage to the heart, this is a heart attack.
Who is at risk?
Smokers and people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are more likely to develop coronary heart disease as are people who:
- Don’t exercise
- Are obese or overweight
- Have close family members with heart disease
The black community is at a higher risk of developing heart disease due to the fact that we’re more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes.
The two most common symptoms of heart disease are angina and a heart attack. Other symptoms include palpitation, breathlessness, dizziness, nausea and feeling sweaty but in many cases there are no symptoms until it is too late.
What does it feel like?
In some people angina may feel a bit like indigestion but in many cases angina can be quite severe and you may feel a painful heaviness or tightness in the centre of your chest which may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach.
What triggers it and how long does it last?
Exercise and stress can trigger angina and usually it passes in about 10 minutes and is improved by rest or medication.
What is this symptom telling you?
Angina is a sign that you have coronary heart disease and your heart is not getting enough oxygen. You’ll need to see your doctor, get a formal diagnosis and find out how to manage your condition to reduce the number of angina episodes you have and to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or other problems.
A heart attack can be fatal so if you think you or someone else is having a heart attack dial 999/911 immediately.
What does a heart attack feel like?
During a heart attack you may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain (similar to angina)
You may feel like you have indigestion but there will be pain that affects your arms, neck or jaw.
Sometimes people have a heart attack with no symptoms ( a silent heart attack), this tends to happen more with people who are diabetic so it is important that people with diabetes try to keep their heart as healthy as possible through a healthy diet and exercise to prevent heart complications.
You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by:
- Eating a healthy diet that is low in fat, high in fibre and includes plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Being more active
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- Reducing your alcohol intake
If you already have heart disease adopting a healthy lifestyle and taking any prescribed medication can help you manage your condition and reduce your chance of developing any serious complications.