What is heart disease?

February is Heart Health Awareness Month so what exactly is Heart Disease?


Heart disease is Australia’s leading single cause of death with the disease killing one Australian every 28 minutes.


Heart Research Australia states that Heart Disease is an umbrella term for range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases under the heart disease umbrella include blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease; heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others.


The term ‘heart disease’ is often used interchangeably with the term ‘cardiovascular disease’. Cardiovascular disease generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke. Other heart conditions, such as those that affect your heart’s muscle, valves or rhythm, also are considered forms of heart disease.


90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. The more risk factors for coronary heart disease you have, the greater your chance of developing it but by improving your lifestyle, including your diet and fitness, you can minimise the risk of getting cardiovascular disease.


Risks you can control


Smoking - Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked. Stopping smoking is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease and remember, it is never too late to give up.


Cholesterol - Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood that comes from two sources: your body and food. Your body makes the required cholesterol it needs but it can also be found in food from animal sources. Excess cholesterol can form plaque between layers of artery walls making it harder for your heart to circulate blood therefore increasing your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.


High Blood Pressure - High blood pressure is often termed the ‘silent killer’ as it usually doesn’t present any symptoms. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to have it measured regularly. Over time, if high blood pressure it is not treated, your heart may become enlarged making your heart pump less effectively.


Being inactive - Two in every three adult Australians aged over 18 are either inactive or have low levels of exercise. Being inactive increases your chance of heart disease – second only to smoking as a risk factor. If you are inactive, you are almost twice as likely to suffer coronary heart disease, compared to those who get enough exercise. It can also help you control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve your mental health – helping you to look and feel great.


Being overweight - In Australia, one in four children and two in three adults are overweight or obese. Carrying excess body fat can have a serious impact on your health. It is a risk factor for heart disease, and it can also increase your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, arthritis and certain types of cancer.


Risks you can’t control


Age - As you get older, your risk of heart disease increases.


Gender - Men are at higher risk of heart disease. Women’s risk grows and may be equal to men after menopause.


Ethnic background - People of some origins (e.g. from the Indian sub-continent) have higher risk. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have more risk because of lifestyle factors.


Family history: If someone in your family has cardiovascular disease, speak to your doctor about your risk.


Keep a look out for our next blog for tips for keeping a healthy heart

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