Are you at risk of heart disease?
Read on for the lowdown on the factors that can turn the odds against you.
Smoking and passive smoking
Smoking leads to a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries, reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your heart, raises blood pressure and makes your blood more prone to clotting. All in all, smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as someone who has never smoked. Non-smokers who live with smokers are also at increased risk.
Regularly exceeding the Department of Health’s recommended maximum intake could almost double your risk of coronary heart disease. Binge drinking is also linked to abnormal heart rhythms and long-term heavy drinking to weakness of the heart muscle. (Do not exceed 3 to 4 units a day for men; 2 to 3 units for women.)
High blood pressure
Having high blood pressure (generally, over 140/85) puts your heart under extra strain. This can be caused by many factors, including being overweight or physically inactive, and consuming too much alcohol or salt.
Cholesterol – a fatty substance found in the blood – can accumulate in your arteries and make you more susceptible to heart disease. The main cause of high cholesterol is eating too much saturated fat, found in foods like dairy products, meat and cooking oils.
Lack of exercise
Couch potatoes beware: being inactive increases your chances of having a heart attack. Aim to do 30 minutes of physical exercise, five or more times a week. Research shows it has as great an impact on life expectancy as giving up smoking.
Being overweight or obese puts you at greater risk of coronary heart disease, along with other conditions such as high blood pressure. Excess fat around the middle is more likely to lead to potential heart problems than excess weight stored around the hips and/or thighs.
When the arteries are exposed to prolonged, poorly controlled blood glucose levels, it affects the lining of the artery walls making them more likely to develop fatty deposits. It also increases the damage caused by smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, meaning that people with diabetes are five times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
You’re at greater risk of heart problems if your father or brother developed cardiovascular disease before the age of 55, or if your mother or sister was diagnosed aged 65 or younger. If you’re of South Asian origin, you’re also more vulnerable to heart disease.
And finally, age
The older you get, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. If you’re over 40, you can ask your GP for a heart health check to assess your risk.
For more on heart health and heart conditions, visit the British Heart Foundation or take a look at benenden health's healthy hearts section.
Members of benenden health can contact the 24-hour GP advice line if they are concerned about their health and would like to speak to a doctor.