Cardiovascular Disease, the silent killer

Martin McDaid

Martin – Pharmacist, Finglas

Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, is the most common cause of death in Ireland, accounting for about 1 in 3 of all deaths, and it is expected to dramatically increase in the next decade. In the general public, it is probably the most poorly understood major disease and because of this, few people know the signs and symptoms to watch out for. In this blog, I will outline the general conditions associated with heart disease, what you can do to help prevent the onset of heart disease, and how the highly qualified pharmacists in LloydsPharmacy can help reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

CVD (cardiovascular disease) includes all of the diseases of the heart and circulation, including heart attack, stroke, angina and blood vessel diseases. A heart attack is where the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. A stroke is similar, except in this case the blood supply to the brain is cut off either by a clot or less commonly, a weakened blood vessel in the brain bursts.  Both heart attacks and strokes are medical emergencies and require immediate treatment; the sooner a person receives treatment, the less damage is likely to happen.  Angina is chest pain caused by restriction of blood flow to the muscles of the heart; this usually happens because the vessels supplying the heart have narrowed. Narrowing and hardening of arteries elsewhere in the body is known as peripheral vascular disease and can affect the kidneys, feet, eyes and other organs. All of the effects of CVD are caused by plaque build-up in the various arteries of the body; this plaque is made of cholesterol, fat and calcium and coats the arteries, and can break open leading to blood clots.

There are a number of commonly known factors which increase your risk of CVD: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, inactivity, family history, ethnicity and having diabetes. Addressing these factors helps to minimise your overall risk of developing CVD. It is important to note at this stage that a persons overall risk increases slowly over time and, as such, modifying your lifestyle today starts to immediately reverse this risk. CVD is known as a “silent killer” because a lot of the signs and symptoms are “silent”, and only become apparent later on, and present as a medical emergency. Because of this, it is important for everyone to start creating the conditions to minimise your chances of developing CVD early on in life.

High blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for developing CVD as high pressure damages the blood vessels. At LloydsPharmacy we offer a free blood pressure checking service in all our stores. If we find your blood pressure is high, we will either recheck in the next few weeks or if very high, we will refer you to a doctor. This is a key part of our Change Your Health Direction (CYHD) initiative. As part of this, we also offer advice on smoking cessation and losing weight healthily. Our pharmacists have specialised knowledge to help reduce your cholesterol and how to properly manage your diabetes. None of these risk factors act solely to increase your risk of developing CVD; they are all linked together in some way. For example, being obese makes you more likely to be inactive, have diabetes, have high blood pressure and have high cholesterol. In this case, addressing the obesity can have positive effects in all the other factors and decrease the risk overall.

To summarise, CVD is our nation’s biggest killer and is increasing with each passing generation. We must try to holistically look at our cardiovascular health and take steps to live more healthy, positive lives.  Our LloydsPharmacy team are here to help you achieve this goal and with our CYHD initiative, we are in a prime place to give you the best advice to improving your heart health.

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