Over his career, Dr Rob Henderson, Consultant Cardiologist at Nottingham University Hospitals, and Honorary Secretary of the British Cardiovascular Society, has seen many advances in the treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD). “It's an area where new drugs, technology and procedures are regularly developed,” he says.

Alarmingly, however, according to statistics from the British Heart Foundation, CVD is responsible for more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK.

 

Symptoms

 

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for conditions which affect the heart and blood vessels, and presents with a range of symptoms. These can be either cardiac (of the heart) or vascular (of the blood vessels) in origin. Those that might relate to the heart include chest pain, breathlessness, palpitation, and loss of consciousness. Symptoms due to blood vessel disease, meanwhile, can include stroke and pain on exertion in the lower limbs. People who experience acute onset of chest pain, severe breathlessness, or symptoms suggestive of stroke should call an ambulance and may require urgent treatment at a specialist hospital service.

Anyone who experiences stable symptoms suggestive of heart disease should see their GP, who will make an initial assessment of their condition, taking into consideration age, lifestyle, blood pressure and cholesterol history. Medication may be appropriate in some circumstances, or the patient may be referred to a specialist for further treatment and advice.

 

Prevention

 

There are things everyone can do to minimise their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Stopping smoking is the most obvious. “When you quit smoking, your risk of an adverse cardiovascular event declines quickly,” says Henderson. One year after stopping, the risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker; and within 15 years, the risk falls to a level similar to that of a person who has never smoked. Physical activity also appears to have protective effects; and, as obesity is also associated with cardiovascular disease, so does maintaining a healthy weight.

 

Advances

 

Medication is available to keep cholesterol and high blood pressure under control (two causes of coronary heart disease, the most common form of cardiovascular disease); while, over the last 10 years, procedures such as balloon angioplasty and stents have transformed the care of heart attack patients. Other breakthroughs include new anti-coagulant medications to reduce stroke risk in atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm); while advances in magnetic resonance imaging and CT imaging are transforming diagnosis of cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, less invasive heart valve replacement procedures, via a tube inserted through an artery in the leg and performed under local anaesthetic, have dramatically improved quality of life and life expectancy.

Robert Henderson believes other important advances will follow in the years ahead “New drugs — and our understanding of genetic causes of heart disease — will transform the way we manage patients in the future,” he says.