Our Mens Health Month series continues with a spotlight on Cardiovascular disease. What is it and what can you do to help prevent it?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a general term for the conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.
It usually is linked to a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atherosclerosis) and an increased risk of blood clots. It can also be associated with damage to arteries in organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys and eyes.
CVD is one of the main causes of death and disability in the UK, but it can often largely be prevented by leading a healthy lifestyle.
Did you know there are different types of Cardiovascular Disease?
Coronary Heart Disease
Coronary heart disease occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked or reduced.
This puts an increased strain on the heart, and can lead to:
- angina (when restricted blood flow to the heart muscle causes chest pain)
- heart attacks (caused when the blood flow to the heart is blocked suddenly)
- heart failure (when the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly).
A stroke is where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, which can cause brain damage and possibly death.
A transient ischaemic attack (also called a TIA or “mini-stroke”) is similar, but the blood flow to the brain is only temporarily disrupted.
The main symptoms of a stroke or TIA can be remembered with the word FAST, which stands for:
- Face – the face may have drooped on one side, the person may be unable to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped
- Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness in one arm
- Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or they may not be able to talk at all
- Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.
Peripheral arterial disease
Peripheral arterial disease occurs when there’s a blockage in the arteries to the limbs, usually the legs.
This can cause:
- dull or cramping leg pain, which is worse when walking and gets better with rest
- hair loss on the legs and feet
- numbness or weakness in the legs
- persistent ulcers (open sores) on the feet and legs.
Aortic diseases are a group of conditions affecting the aorta. This is the largest blood vessel in the body, which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
One of most common aortic diseases is an aortic aneurysm, where the aorta becomes weakened and bulges outwards.
This doesn’t usually have any symptoms, but there’s a chance it could burst and cause life-threatening bleeding.
What can cause Cardiovascular Disease?
There are many risk factors that can increase your risk of getting CVD. The more of these risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop CVD.
If you’re over 40, you should contact your GP to have a health check to check how you are doing. Part of this check should involve looking at your CVD risk and what you can do about it.
The main risk factors of cardiovascular disease are:
- High blood pressure (if your blood pressure is too high, it can damage your blood vessels)
- Smoking (harmful substances in tobacco can damage or narrow your blood vessels)
- High cholesterol (a fatty substance in the blood – if you have high cholesterol, it can cause your blood vessels to narrow and increase the risk of blood clots)
- Diabetes (high blood sugar levels can also damage the blood vessels)
- Overweight (being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure). If you have a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 you are at an increased risk of CVD
- Family history of CVD
- Age (CVD is more common if you are over 50)
- Gender (men are more likely to develop CVD than women)
- Unhealthy diet
- Excessive alcohol consumption
How can I lower the risks of developing CVD?
A healthy lifestyle is the number one factor in reducing the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. The best ways to become heart-healthy are:
- Stop smoking
- Have a balanced diet (see our healthy eating posts for more information)
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Cut down on alcohol