Cardiovascular disease refers to the class of diseases that involve the heart or blood vessels. It’s the most common cause of death in the UK and includes coronary heart disease, angina, heart attacks and stroke.
Coronary heart disease
Coronary heart disease is caused by a gradual build up of fatty deposits on the walls of your arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. This causes the artery to narrow, and makes it harder for your heart muscle to get enough blood and oxygen. The medical term for this condition is atherosclerosis and the fatty material is known as atheroma.
Over time, an artery may become so narrow that it can’t deliver enough blood and oxygen to your heart, especially when you’re exerting yourself. Angina is a feeling of heaviness, tightness or pain in the middle of your chest that may extend to, or just affect, your arms (especially the left), neck, jaw, face, back or abdomen.
It’s most often experienced during physical activity – if you run for a bus, for example, or climb stairs. It may occur in cold weather, after a heavy meal, or when you’re feeling stressed. It can subside once you stop what you’re doing and rest, or take medication.
A heart attack occurs when a piece of the fatty atheroma breaks away from the artery wall and causes a blood clot to form. If this clot then blocks the artery, your heart muscle will be starved of blood and oxygen. A heart attack is a medical emergency and if you suspect that you or someone else is having one it is essential that you call 999 immediately.
Stroke is caused by the blockage of an artery carrying blood to the brain. Damage caused by stroke can affect your bodily functions and mental processes. This can be due to fatty deposits narrowing the arteries supplying the brain, a blood clot blocking an artery or a blood vessel in the brain bursting.
Cardiovascular disease is often known as a silent killer. This is because many people have very few symptoms. Often the first indication someone gets that they have cardiovascular disease is experiencing a heart attack or stroke
In some cases the progression of cardiovascular disease may be accompanied by warning symptoms. These include
- Angina pain (See above)
- Unusual breathlessness
- Abnormal accumulation of fluid for example in the ankles or legs
- Bluish-tinged fingernails or lips
These symptoms are by no means always owing to cardiovascular disease, and could be harmless or caused by other medical conditions. However, if you experience any of them it’s a good idea to make an appointment to see your doctor.
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Physical inactivity
- Being overweight or obese
- A family history of heart disease
- Increasing age
- Ethnic group – Some ethnic groups have a higher risk of heart disease. South Asian people living in the UK have a higher risk that the rest of the UK population.
The key with cardiovascular disease is good prevention and proper management. Making small changes to your lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even if you have cardiovascular disease it’s important to take healthful steps to keep your heart healthy and reduce risk of future problems.
Testing for cardiovascular risk
Cardiovascular disease as well as risk factors such as high cholesterol often run in families. If you have a family history of cardiovascular disease or fall into one of the risk factor categories you might want to consider a comprehensive cardiovascular risk assessment. This test screens for all the types of cholesterol as well as other known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It can be an invaluable preventative screen allowing intervention before a problem occurs. Comprehensive Cardiovascular Risk Assessment.
Diet – A diet high in saturated fats, salt, alcohol, caffeine and refined, sugary foods can accelerate the development of cardiovascular disease. For prevention it is important to ensure an adequate intake of fruits, vegetables, fibre and essential fats. Achieving this can be a daunting task, especially in our busy modern lives. So, for extra guidance and practical tips on how to alter your diet for lifelong heart health why not be smart and Book a Consultation.
Nutritional deficiencies – Often cardiovascular disease is exacerbated by a collection of nutrient deficiencies. Having a full heath MOT is an excellent way of finding out exactly which nutrients you are in need of topping up. It will give you a comprehensive overview of your nutritional status as well as providing an insight into your disease risk. Any deficiencies can then be identified and corrected before they become a problem. NutrEval – MOT Health Test.
High homocysteine -Homocysteine is a chemical naturally produced in the body. When levels are kept within check it doesn’t pose any health risks. However, if the body’s ability to break homocysteine down becomes compromised it can gradually accumulate. High homocysteine is linked to cardiovascular disease, mental health problems and many other conditions. It can be easily treated with a specially designed supplement programme and diet and you can have your homocysteine levels tested via an individual blood test however this is already included in the Comprehensive Cardiovascular Health Test. Click here for an individual Homocysteine Test.
Oxidative damage and inflammation – A healthy antioxidant defence system helps the body defend against heart disease progression which is mediated by unstable chemicals called free radicals. Normally the body has very good mechanisms for mopping up free radicals before they do us any damage but if we are exposed to high levels or our body is not properly supported the defence mechanisms can become over whelmed. One way of measuring how well our bodies are coping with free radicals is an oxidative stress analysis. Once identified oxidative stress can be managed through nutritional therapy using a combination of diet, supplements and lifestyle changes. This can be a useful step in preventing disease onset and slowing progression. Oxidative Stress Test.
Stress – Our physical response to stressful events is an increased secretion of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase blood pressure by causing the heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to constrict. This is a prehistoric survival mechanism designed enable us to run away from danger and avoid bleeding to death! However, the pressures of modern living mean stress can become chronic, so this survival mechanism never fully switches off; resulting in permanently overstressed cardiovascular system. This extra pressure increases the chance of detrimental changes such as atheroma or blood clot formation. If you have a stressful lifestyle you might also like to consider an adrenal stress test which can be a really useful way of assessing stress levels and identifying ways to support the body. A nutritional therapist can then work with you to put together a specific diet, lifestyle and supplement plan to reduce your stress response and lower your cardiovascular risk. Adrenal Stress Test.
Being Overweight – Studies have shown that being obesity or overweight is linked to several factors that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type II diabetes. Losing weight has many health benefits and can significantly reduce cardiovascular risk. A Smart Nutrition Weight Loss Package can guide and motivate you through a programme of safe, sustainable and effective weight loss. Weight Loss Package.
Lack of exercise – Regular physical activity can support a healthy heart and lower disease risk in addition to giving many other health benefits. If you previously did little physical activity a nutritional therapist can help you to put together an appropriate and enjoyable exercise regime as part of your cardiovascular health plan.