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Cardiovascular Health 2020

We all need to keep ‘heart healthy’

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Helen Williams FFRPS, FRPharmS

Consultant Pharmacist for Cardiovascular Disease, South London, UK
National Clinical Adviser for AF, AHSN Network
Clinical Director for AF, Health Innovation Network
Clinical Lead for Cardiovascular Disease, Southwark and Lambeth CCGs

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we all look after ourselves and keep ‘heart healthy’…

…This applies to those with known heart conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart rhythm disorders and angina, as well as to those who consider themselves to be relatively healthy. We should take this opportunity to look at areas of our lifestyle we may want to address, for example, eating more healthily, stopping smoking, losing weight, being more physically active and moderating our alcohol intake – all of which would improve our heart health. 

Improve your lifestyle

  • Stopping smoking: Within one year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease is about half that of a smoker.
  • Eating more healthily: A balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg and low levels of fat and refined sugar can improve your heart health and lower your blood pressure
  • Losing weight: If you are overweight, any reduction in bodyweight will reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke
  • Being more physically active: Exercises reduces your blood pressure, improves your general fitness and reduces your risk of developing heart disease
  • Alcohol: Men and women are advised to drink less than 14 units of alcohol per week. Drinking to excess can increase your risk of high blood pressure, obesity and stroke.

You may also want to keep an eye on your blood pressure with a home blood pressure monitor.  These are available to buy from around £20 and a list of validated devices can be found here  An upper arm machine is preferred. If your blood pressure measures above 140/90mmHg – you should seek advice from your GP. 

Your GP and the NHS are here to help

The NHS is still there for people, despite COVID-19, and if you experience any symptoms suggestive of a heart attack or a stroke – you should seek urgent medical assistance. Your GP practice is also there to help if you experience symptoms or need advice. You should seek help if you:

  • Feel more breathless when physically active, or breathless when lying flat but it improves on sitting or standing
  • Have discomfort in the chest, upper back, neck, jaw or arm that occurs when physically active and resolves when you rest
  • Have pain in the calves or legs that occurs when walking, causing you to stop to allow the pain to settle or have a pain in the legs that you cannot walk through? 
  • Have palpitations that occur at night, often around 2am that feel erratic and / or fast

Most people with heart disease will be offered a flu vaccination over the next few weeks. If you are taking medicines due to heart disease, you should ensure you arrange for repeat supplies in plenty of time – but don’t order more than you need. Your community pharmacist can help if you have any questions or concerns about your medicines.

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