Heart disease is responsible for thousands of deaths each year and is currently the UK’s biggest killer. It affects 1 in 50 people in this country. Elderly people are vulnerable to heart disease, as their hearts start to tire and the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet or excessive body weight begin to show. The chances of suffering from heart disease increase as you get older.
What causes heart disease?
Heart disease is caused by the build up of fatty deposits on the insides of the coronary arteries; these deposits gradually cause the arteries to become blocked, which stop the supply of blood and oxygen to and from the heart. There may be several different factors which contribute to the development of heart disease; common risk factors include:
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Eating a poor diet that is high in salt, fatty foods and cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking heavily on a regular basis
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension)
- Family history of heart disease
- Having a thrombosis
Symptoms of heart disease
Heart disease is most commonly associated with heart attacks but it can also cause other irregularities and conditions, including palpitations and a racing heartbeat, heart failure and angina.
Symptoms of a heart attack: a heart attack should always be treated as a medical emergency; you should look out for the following signs:
- Pain in the depth of the chest, which may radiate to the arms
- Breathing difficulties
Symptoms of angina: angina is very common, especially amongst older people. Common symptoms include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Pain in the chest, back and arms
- Pain in the jaw
Treatment for heart disease
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, you should see your GP; it is important to get treatment for heart problems as quickly as possible as this may prevent a heart attack. Treatment for heart problems usually involves medication to control blood pressure and cholesterol levels; if medication fails and the condition is more severe surgery will be performed. Surgical procedures usually open up the arteries to allow blood to flow more easily; in more severe cases a bypass procedure may be carried out to divert the blood flow around the blocked part of artery. In extreme cases, a heart transplant may be carried out if nothing else can be done but the availability of healthy donor hearts is often very low.