Do you get chest pains ?
Worried about heart disease?
Family history of heart problems?

One of the main things we worry about if anyone has any chest pain – 'am I having a heart attack?'
This is a reasonable concern & should be excluded with at least a discussion with your own GP if not a cardiologist.
Chest pain can be due to heart problems but there are number of non heart issues that can cause discomfort, such as: muscular pain, indigestion, infections, anxiety & blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary emboli).

Chest pain due to heart problems can be due to:

Angina

This is chest pain or shortness of breath which occurs because the fuel pipes to the heart itself (coronary arteries), are narrower than they should be, due to cholesterol building up inside the artery. Therefore, when the heart is beating harder/faster than normal (for example, walking quickly or walking uphill), it needs more fuel but if the fuel pipes supplying it narrower than they should be this will cause problems in the form of chest tightness or shortness of breath

Heart Attack

This occurs if one of the fuel pipes to the heart becomes blocked, as a result a certain area of the heart doesn’t receive any blood (hence oxygen or fuel) and the heart muscle starts to die. It depends on the amount of muscle that dies whether the heart can continue working & hence whether the person survives.

The symptoms of a heart attack normally include chest pain (but not always!) – this is generally a heaviness, pressure of a feeling of bad indigestion in the centre of the chest. People can feel unwell, short of breath, sweaty & feel they want to vomit (some do). The pain/heaviness can travel into the shoulder, down one or both arms & up into the neck & jaw. These can all occur with no previous history of heart problems & you should seek urgent advice (normally call 999) if you have these symptoms lasting longer than 10 to 15 minutes.

If hopefully, the person does survive a heart attack, the quality of life they are left with, with regards to the severity of symptoms (most commonly shortness of breath), depends on the amount of muscle damaged.

Why do people have heart problems?

Family history

This is a big one. If first degree members of your family (dad, mum, brothers and sisters) had a heart attack, stents put in or a bypass operation below the age of 65, this will increase your risk. Episodes in other family members (grandparents, uncles and cousins) are relevant but not as significant.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is an important component in the body and we could not live without it. However, cholesterol also causes problems by building up in our arteries and causing issues like angina and heart attacks. However, a person’s cholesterol level isn’t completely due to their diet (although eating a deep fried Mars bars every day won’t help!). Most of the time it depends on how a person’s body deals with the cholesterol. Two people can have exactly the same diet but very different cholesterol levels. Please don’t get me wrong, you should try to have a sensible low cholesterol diet, especially if there are concerns about heart problems. A good diet can reduce your cholesterol by up to 30%. If your starting cholesterol is above 7 or you have a number of risk factors or have heart problems, you will normally need tablets to help reduce your cholesterol levels.

High Blood Pressure

Here your body doesn’t manage the level of glucose well, it can be, in part, due to diet but can be due to a number of issues with the way things in your body work. High glucose levels for long periods of time can damage every organ in the body, from your brain (strokes), eyes, heart (higher risk of heart attacks), gut, liver, kidneys, immune system, nerves and blood vessels.


Things which will increase your risk :

Smoking

yes this is a big one and we all rave on about. There is a reason doctors and nurses go on and on about smoking. Just with regards to the heart (so I’m not going to go on about lung cancers and other lung problems like emphysema), each time you smoke a cigarette, it increases your blood pressure and heart rate, damages the lining of arteries (including the arteries in your heart) and it makes the red blood cells more sticky – this increases the chances of them clumping together and making a clot which can result in a heart attack (or stroke). You are basically paying money to increase the chance of you having a heart attack.

Diet

Already sort of discussed in the bit about cholesterol. A healthy diet will help in part to reduce cholesterol levels in the body (you may avoid taking a tablet) but also give the body all the good stuff it needs to work at it’s best. Now this doesn’t mean eating green leaves for the rest of your life. Most of us are sensible & intelligent enough to know what’s good & bad – we just tend to ignore our sensible sides. You are allowed to have an occasional fry-up (just not every day) or a burger, chips, doughnuts, etc.- just once in a while rather than every day or every other day..

Weight

Most of us can look in a full length mirror and be honest about whether they are under/over/normal weight –  you don’t need a health professional to make that diagnosis. Your body is essentially a machine, it needs fuel to work, if you don’t put enough fuel in it will stutter and stall. If you put too much in, it will use what it needs and store the rest (fat!). There are millions and millions of diets out there but here is what I have come up with, (please tell me if I can market this and make millions) all you need to remember to lose weight, either put less fuel in or run the engine more (more activity/exercise) – ideally do both.

Exercise

Some people break out into a cold sweat on hearing this word and have nightmares about gyms and Zumba classes (uuugh – cold shiver down my spine there too). Exercise essentially means running ‘your engine’ a little more than you normally do – the more the better. Now this could just be walking around the block once a day, or going for a walk in the nearby park, in the garden or even walking up and down the stairs an extra few times a day. It doesn’t have to involve expensive gym memberships or classes. The most important thing is to try and find something you enjoy doing, otherwise you will find some excuse to not do it.

The way I like describing it is: ‘Imagine you are playing Russian roulette. Some of the bullets in the gun come pre-loaded (or not), ie your family history, being male or female. Others you load yourself by smoking, drinking to excess, poor diet etc. That ‘gun’ is spun on a daily basis and the trigger pulled without you having any input but you do have some control how many bullets you are loading yourself.’