It's so important to keep our hearts healthy and now scientists have announced that they've developed a brand new test to help doctors spot the signs of a heart attack in women more quickly. By changing the way they test us if we arrive at our GPs or hospital with chest pains, this new test should help twice as many women get a diagnosis and the treatment they need as quickly as possible.
But these new tests aren't the only way to help spot a heart attack early. There are simple checks you can make by yourself too- which can make all the difference when it comes to getting the help you need.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack happens when your heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich blood, causing damage. This damage is permanent, but the sooner treatment is given the more muscle can be saved, reducing your chances of heart failure (where your heart doesn’t pump properly) afterwards. Getting help quickly can also make a big difference to your survival.
What are the signs of a heart attack?
You might not always realise you’re having a heart attack. “You may have classic crushing chest pain, but sometimes it can be less obvious such as a feeling of pressure or tightness,” says Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse. “Other symptoms can include jaw pain, pain that radiates to the arms, back and stomach, breathlessness and nausea.”
If you have any of these symptoms, call 999 immediately – better to be safe than sorry. It’s important to sit and rest while you wait. If you have aspirin to hand and you’re not allergic to it, chew one 300mg tablet. Don’t go looking for aspirin because it will put a strain on your heart – and if you have someone with you, make sure they don’t go off hunting for it and leave you alone.
Am I at risk of a heart attack?
To assess your risk of heart disease, you need to know how healthy your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are. Over-40s are entitled to a free NHS health check to look at your lifestyle, cholesterol levels, blood sugar, blood pressure and weight.
- Total cholesterol should be below 4mmol/l
- LDL cholesterol (bad one) should be below 3.0mmol/L
- HDL cholesterol (good one) should be above 1.0mmol/L
- This should be below 120/80
- Waist size – ideally below 32in (80cm) for women 37in (94cm) for men
- BMI – below 25
How can I reduce my risk?
“It’s the single best thing you can do for your heart,” says Maureen. When you smoke, the toxins from the smoke enter your blood, making your blood thicker and increasing the chances of a clot forming. Your blood pressure and heart rate also increase, which can result in narrowing arteries. These changes to your body can cause a heart attack. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for help and advice or visit www.quit.org.uk.
Cut saturated fat
The type of fat found in red meat, pastry, cakes and biscuits is linked with high cholesterol, which could increase your risk of a heart attack, so keep these foods to a minimum.
But newer research has found the type of saturated fat found in dairy food has little effect on your heart risk, and cheese may actually reduce the unhealthy form of cholesterol.
That’s not a licence to load up on Cheddar though – cheese is still high in calories, which can lead to weight gain, another heart risk factor.
“The heart is a muscle like any other and works better when exercised,” says Maureen. “Being active also keeps weight and blood pressure under control.” Aim for moderate activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.
Too much salt raises your blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. We get most of our salt from processed foods so try to cook from scratch instead, and flavour meals with herbs and spices. Aim to have no more than a teaspoon (5g) of salt a day.
Change your diet
A Mediterranean diet could really cut your heart disease risk, according to research in the New England Journal of Medicine. This diet has been associated with a better quality of life and good health, including a healthier heart, longer lifespan and good weight management.
Eat plenty of veg, fruit, olive oil, beans, oily fish and nuts. Visit the Yours diet club –www.yoursdietclub.co.uk – for more advice and recipes.
- Words from Charlotte Haigh MacNeil
- There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.