Heart disease is a broad term covering various conditions that affect the heart and coronary arteries. Heart disease can lead to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Possible symptoms of heart disease include:
Chest pain that comes on during exercise
Shortness of breath
Swelling of your ankles
Difficulty breathing at night
Feeling dizzy or faint
A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to a part of the brain is cut off. This can lead to brain injury, disability or sometimes death.
Certain conditions increase the risk of having a stroke. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat).
Heart disease is normally caused by atherosclerosis. This is the build-up of fatty deposits (atheroma) on the walls of the coronary arteries. Atheroma causes the arteries to narrow and restricts the flow of blood to the heart muscle.
Strokes are most commonly caused by a blood clot which prevents the blood supply to the brain (ischaemic stroke). An AF related stroke is an ischaemic stroke.
Some strokes are due to a burst blood vessel (haemorrhagic stroke). Mini-strokes are caused by a condition called a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) which temporarily interrupts the blood supply to the brain.
With , the upper chambers of the heart fail to pump efficiently, leading to a risk of blood clots.
If these blood clots find their way into the lower chambers of the heart, they may enter the general bloodstream and may travel to the arteries that lead to the brain. If this happens it can cut off the blood supply, causing a stroke.
Someone has an AF related stroke every 15 seconds. For more information watch our information video:
According to the World Health Organisation, around 80% of strokes and heart attacks due to heart disease are preventable. Being aware of the primary risk factors and taking some simple steps to reduce your risk are key.
Here are five ways we recommend to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke:
Being aware of your own cardiovascular risk is an important first step.
If you are at high risk of heart disease you can discuss with a heart specialist what you can do to bring your levels down. This might include making different lifestyle choices or undergoing treatment or screening.
If you are overweight or obese, losing weight and exercising more can help to improve your overall health, including your risk of heart disease and stroke. Aim for a body mass index of 25 or less. Talk to your doctor if you need help or advice.
Smoking thickens your blood and can increase the amount of plaque build-up in your arteries. Quitting smoking will significantly reduce your risk of stroke.
Having high blood pressure can increase your risk of stroke as much as four times. In fact, it is the biggest single contributor to the risk of stroke. Talk to your doctor about ways to bring your blood pressure down to less than 120/80.
Aim to exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week. Thirty minutes of exercise that increases your breathing rate will help to lower your blood pressure and can contribute to weight loss.
You should if you are experiencing atrial fibrillation which is an irregular heartbeat caused by problems with the heart’s electrical activity.
Symptoms of AF – which can range from mild to severe – include palpitations, dizziness, fatigue and breathlessness.
As AF is a major risk factor for stroke it is important that it is properly diagnosed and treated.
London Heart Clinic offers a specialist heart screening service which checks your overall heart health and can identify early warning signs of heart disease.