The healthy heart guide

Heart disease is the biggest killer of men and women in the West, accounting for more than 25 per cent of deaths. It remains the UK's single biggest killer, with someone in this country suffering a heart attack every two minutes. Too many of us don't know how to recognise the symptoms, according to a report published last week. And another showed that a significant proportion of people, including women, are more at risk of a heart attack than they believe. But there are plenty of things we can do to keep our hearts healthy.

Know the symptoms
A heart attack happens when a blood clot suddenly and completely blocks one of the arteries around the heart. As a result, part of the heart muscle does not get an adequate blood supply and is starved of oxygen, which can cause permanent damage. Most heart attacks occur as the result of coronary heart disease. The common or classic symptoms of a heart attack are a pain in the centre of the chest that can spread to the arms, neck or jaw. Some people can feel sick or sweaty, while others feel short of breath.
Women often experience less common heart attack symptoms, including a dull pain, ache, or "heavy" feeling in the chest; a mild discomfort and a general feeling of being unwell; a pain in the chest that can spread to the back or stomach; a chest pain that feels like a bad episode of indigestion; or a bout of dizziness. Women, whatever their age, are less likely to have heart attacks than men. But women are more likely than men to die from a heart attack, and those who live through one are more likely than men to have a second within four years. This might be because their heart disease is often more severe by the time they have their first heart attack.
"Far too many people delay calling an ambulance when they have a heart attack," warns Judy O'Sullivan, a cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation. "They either don't recognise the symptoms or think they should be much more severe than they are. The longer it takes you to call an ambulance, the greater your risk of dying. Three out of every 10 people who have a heart attack will be dead before they get to hospital. It is essential that you call an ambulance immediately. Paramedics say they would rather attend a false alarm than arrive and find it's too late to help someone. The life-saving treatment starts as soon as the paramedic arrives at your front door."

A healthy diet can significantly reducing the risk of developing heart disease. Plenty of fruit and vegetables are recommended, as evidence suggests they help to lower the risk of heart disease. Forget your Atkins diet, as starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice should also be included. Too much saturated fat from fatty meats, biscuits, cakes and full-fat dairy products can clog your arteries and put a strain on your heart. Eating oily fish regularly can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and improve the chances of survival after a heart attack. Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish help the heart to beat regularly, reduce triglyceride levels (fatty substances found in the blood) and prevent blood clots from forming in the coronary arteries. "Approximately three out of 10 cases of coronary heart disease in developed countries are due to low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption," says O'Sullivan.

Too much salt can cause high blood pressure, which increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Watch out for foods such as crisps, salted nuts, canned and packet soups and sauces, baked beans and canned vegetables, pork pies, pizzas and other ready meals. Three-quarters of a person's dietary salt intake comes from processed foods alone. "Salt is a hidden source of harm. Too many of us see it as a flavouring, rather than something that can potentially damage our health," says O'Sullivan.
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Source - Independent

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