What can cause heart problems?
Overall, as I discussed in my previous blog, figures show that heart-related problems are significantly more common amongst men. In the UK, for example, 1 in 7 men die from coronary heart disease (CHD) compared to 1 in 12 women.1 So, what are some common contributing factors to heart-related problems?
- Excess weight/obesity
- High cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
- High blood pressure
- Family history
- Alcohol consumption.
1. Excess weight/obesity
Studies show that men in the UK are more likely to be overweight or obese than women.2 Excess weight is generally caused by insufficient exercise and high calorie intake, though there are some medications that could also contribute to weight gain.
Being overweight increases the risk of developing serious heart problems like heart attacks because a fatty substance can build up in the arteries, meaning blood can't get to the heart properly.This can also put you at risk of suffering from a stroke, if this fatty substance stops blood from reaching the brain.
2. High cholesterol
Cholesterol is a type of fat used for various bodily functions. When cholesterol levels are too high, it builds up around artery walls, thus causing a problem known as atheroma. This prevents blood flowing through the body efficiently and, as a result, blood pressure can rise and the risk of developing heart-related problems, such as a heart attack, increases.
According to Diabetes UK, every week diabetes causes over 500 heart attacks and nearly 700 strokes here in Britain.3 Diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are high and, if this remains the case for a long period of time, it can damage blood vessels and lead to problems in relation to heart health.
When blood sugar levels are high, sugar accumulates in the blood cells as the body can't use it all. This may block or damage blood vessels, meaning oxygen and nutrients cannot be supplied to the heart.
4. Lack of exercise
It is estimated that lack of exercise is responsible for around 1 in 10 cases of heart disease here in the UK.4 As well as being a risk factor for this, physical inactivity is linked to other heart-related issues, including high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Regular exercise can halve the risk of dying from heart disease so it is incredibly important to make time to get active.5
5. High blood pressure
Blood pressure measures how forcefully blood is being pumped around the body. When blood pressure gets too high, and remains so for a long period of time, it can lead to strokes, coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
There are various factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, including smoking, obesity, excess caffeine and alcohol, stress and a diet high in salt.
Another lifestyle factor that can influence heart health is smoking. The British Heart Foundation states that smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to those who have never smoked.6
Chemicals within a cigarette, such as tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine, make the arteries sticky, causing material to stick to them. This can clog and damage the arteries, making a heart attack or stroke more likely as blood is no longer able to be carried efficiently around the body.
Although stress itself does not directly lead to heart issues, as a means of coping with the issue people often turn to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking, unhealthy eating and high alcohol consumption. As I've discussed, these factors all have an influence on heart health.
8. Family history
If heart problems run in your family, this can increase the likelihood that you will also develop issues. The risk increases if a brother or your father is diagnosed with a heart or circulatory disease before the age of 55, or if your mother or a sister is diagnosed under the age of 65.
The risk of developing heart problems increases as you get older, with issues most common amongst those over the age of 50.
An unhealthy diet, such as one high in saturated fats and salt, can lead to issues such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. We know these to be contributing factors in other heart problems like CHD.
11. Alcohol consumption
Consuming excess alcohol on a regular basis can contribute to weight gain and raise blood pressure. This, in turn, makes the likes of a stroke or heart attack more likely.
How to keep the heart healthy
Now that we have looked at some of the contributing factors in heart-related problems, it is useful to examine some ways in which we can keep the heart healthy going forward.
- First of all, speak to your doctor to gain advice on weight loss, cutting down on smoking or reducing your alcohol consumption. The absence of any of these things is likely to improve your heart health.
- Exercise on a regular basis – remember, this doesn't have to be anything too rigorous. Swimming, fast-paced walking and cycling can be just as effective as pounding on the treadmill for hours!
- Try to adopt healthy eating habits by upping your fruit and veg intake, cooking from scratch and by opting for fresh ingredients rather than processed foods (such as ready-meals, chocolate and crisps).
- De-stress in a way that works for you. You may want to talk to someone about how you're feeling, or partake in a calming activity like reading or walking.
- Hawthorn and Garlic have traditionally been used to support blood pressure and circulation.
Don't forget - if you are worried about an issue relating to your heart, it is advisable to seek information from your GP.