Cheryl Lythgoe, Matron at Benenden Health on how to maintain a healthy heart.
1. How to identify symptoms of heart disease:
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, being overweight or obese, and being physically inactive. Hereditary and ethnic factors can increase your risk too. If you are experiencing abnormal chest pain, numbness in your arms or legs, or pain in your neck, jaw or throat it could be that your blood vessels in and around your heart are becoming blocked or diseased, so it is recommended to visit a hospital immediately.
A quick and easy way to find out how to ensure you have a healthy blood pressure is by using Benenden Health’s online blood pressure tool. You will need to know your blood pressure levels for this, if you don’t know your blood pressure or cholesterol reading, it is recommended that you speak to your pharmacist or practice nurse who will be able to help.
2. How to monitor abnormal heart rhythms:
Abnormal heart rhythms can mean an irregular, slow or a fast heartbeat and can lead to blood clots, strokes or heart attacks. Symptoms include dizziness, palpitations, breathlessness, fatigue and losing consciousness. If you are experiencing these speak to your GP, as you may need a heart tracing to assess your heart rate and rhythm.
Treatments can include medication, or more invasive procedures such as cardioversion (a treatment that uses a therapeutic doses of electrical current aiming to restore a normal heart rhythm) or a catheter ablation (a procedure to rectify the arrhythmia by passing tiny tubes through the heart’s blood vessels to pinpoint the problem, then destroy the area that is causing the issue). Other procedures include inserting a device to regulate the heartbeat, such as a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
3. How to identify heart failure as soon as possible:
More than half a million people in the UK live with heart failure – when your heart isn’t pumping blood around the body as effectively as it should. Key symptoms include shortness of breath, swollen feet, ankles, stomach and the lower back area – as well as feeling very tired or weak. The causes are high blood pressure, a heart attack or a disease of the heart muscle known as cardiomyopathy.
4. How to best recover from heart failure:
The mainstay of heart failure treatments are a combination of medication and healthy lifestyle changes. In some cases, a device may be placed in your chest to control your heart rhythm. Adopting a healthy balanced diet, doing gentle exercise and ensuring you are smoke free can reduce your risk of becoming seriously unwell. Seeing a medical professional will enable a tailored package of medications and treatment options to be offered and discussed.
5. How to make long-term changes to benefit your heart:
Lifestyle choices can have a big impact on how likely you are to develop heart disease. Stopping smoking is vital, and keeping active (unless advised otherwise by your GP), along with eating for a healthy heart, are strongly advised.
Reducing your intake of salt is also key in keeping your blood vessels and heart healthy. One simple method to immediately reduce salt intake is to stop adding it to any food as you cook or eat. Different herbs and spices can be used as a replacement for salt in recipes. For example, curry powder can add flavour and a healthy kick to your meal.
Low-impact exercise is also a great way to keep your heart healthy during the recovery process as it isn’t as high-intensity as say, aerobics, yet it still protects the body from heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity and its related diseases, including diabetes.
Benenden Health offers a range of products including GP access, 24/7 mental health helpline and diagnostic testing for more than 820,000 members across the UK.