There are still enormous regional variations in medical conditions across the UK.

For example, take heart disease a leading cause of death in this country.

Scotland and the North of England have the highest incidence of heart disease.

The five areas by local authority which have the highest premature heart & circulatory disease (CVD – cardiovascular disease) death rates in 2015-17 are:

Glasgow City, Manchester, Blackpool, West Dunbartonshire and Dundee City.

Below: Table of the top five UK premature heart & circulatory disease (CVD) death rates 2015-17

Local AuthorityUnder 75 Death Rate per 100,000 Population
Glasgow City143.7
Manchester132.8
Blackpool120.7
West Dunbartonshire119.3
Dundee City118.5

These figures are taken from the British Heart Foundation UK Factsheet April 2019. See here for link.

What are cardiovascular diseases?

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and they include:

  • coronary heart disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle;
  • cerebrovascular disease – disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain;
  • peripheral arterial disease – disease of blood vessels supplying the arms and legs;
  • rheumatic heart disease – damage to the heart muscle and heart valves from rheumatic fever, caused by streptococcal bacteria;
  • congenital heart disease – malformations of heart structure existing at birth;
  • deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism – blood clots in the leg veins, which can dislodge and move to the heart and lungs.

Heart attacks and strokes are usually acute events and are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to the heart or brain. The most common reason for this is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply the heart or brain.

Strokes can also be caused by bleeding from a blood vessel in the brain or from blood clots. The cause of heart attacks and strokes are usually the presence of a combination of risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol, hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidaemia.

What are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease?

The most important behavioural risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. The effects of behavioural risk factors may show up in individuals as raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, raised blood lipids, and overweight and obesity.

These “intermediate risks factors” can be measured in primary care facilities and indicate an increased risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other complications.

There are several ways you can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

There are a number of ways you can do this, which are discussed below.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains.

You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day as too much salt will increase your blood pressure. 6g of salt is about one teaspoonful.

There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats, because these will increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • meat pies
  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • ghee – a type of butter often used in Indian cooking
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • foods that contain coconut or palm oil

However, a balanced diet should still include unsaturated fats, which have been shown to increase levels of good cholesterol and help reduce any blockage in your arteries.

Foods high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils

You should also try to avoid too much sugar in your diet, as this can increase your chances of developing diabetes, which is proven to dramatically increase your chances of developing CHD.

Read more about healthy snacking.

Be more physically active

Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way of maintaining a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure.

Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient, lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Keep to a healthy weight

Your GP or practice nurse can tell you what your ideal weight is in relation to your height and build. Alternatively, find out what your body mass index (BMI) is by using our BMI calculator.

Give up smoking

If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing CHD.

Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (furring of the arteries). It also causes the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis in people under the age of 50.

Research has shown you’re up to four times more likely to successfully give up smoking if you use NHS support together with stop-smoking medicines, such as patches or gum.

Ask your doctor about this or visit NHS Smokefree.

Reduce your alcohol consumption

If you drink, don’t exceed the maximum recommended limits.

Men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week. Spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week. Always avoid binge drinking, as this increases the risk of a heart attack.

Keep your blood pressure under control

You can keep your blood pressure under control by eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat, exercising regularly and, if required, taking the appropriate medication to lower your blood pressure.

Your target blood pressure should be below 140/85mmHg. If you have high blood pressure, ask your GP to check your blood pressure regularly.

Read more about high blood pressure

Keep your diabetes under control

You have a greater risk of developing CHD if you are diabetic. If you have diabetes, being physically active and controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level.

If you’re diabetic, your target blood pressure level should be below 130/80mmHg.

Read more about diabetes.

Take any prescribed medication

If you have CHD or CVD , you may be prescribed medication to help relieve your symptoms and stop further problems developing.

If you don’t have CHD or CVD but have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a history of family heart disease, your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent you developing heart-related problems.

If you’re prescribed medication, it’s vital you take it and follow the correct dosage. Don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor first, as doing so is likely to make your symptoms worse and put your health at risk.

The importance of regular exercise

People who don’t exercise are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who exercise regularly.

The heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle, benefits from exercise. A strong heart can pump more blood around your body with less effort.

Any aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming and dancing, makes your heart work harder and keeps it healthy.

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