THE statistics are stark: one in four of us dies from cardiovascular disease.
In April this year, S Club 7’s Paul Cattermole died aged just 46.
An autopsy revealed that he had several blood vessel and heart problems, including cardiac arrhythmias.
The band, who had been preparing for their reunion tour, were heartbroken when Paul was found dead at his home in Dorset.
They have now teamed up with the British Heart Foundation for their September Spotlight campaign to raise awareness of how invisible heart disease can be – both to those affected and to those around them.
Like Paul, people can suffer from heart disease for a long time, possibly with symptoms, without knowing it – until it’s too late.
S Club bandmate Rachel Stevens told Sun Health: “To be honest, we didn’t really know much about heart and circulatory disease before Paul’s death.
“Like many people, we associate heart disease with older people.”
And band member Jon Lee said: “Without Paul our hearts feel emptier, far too many people die too young from heart diseases they didn’t know they had.”
Now the band is urging us all to educate ourselves about heart health.
A BHF survey found that just three percent of Brits know that one in two people will suffer from a heart or circulatory disease in their lifetime.
Paul was one of the 168,000 people who will die from such a disease this year alone – 460 people die every day, 130 of those people are under 75 years old.
About 7.6 million people live with dangerous heart diseases – including angina pectoris, coronary artery disease, cardiac arrhythmias, heart valve disease and heart failure.
That number doesn’t include the additional millions of people with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both largely preventable conditions that increase the risk of fatal heart problems or strokes.
Many of these diseases have no symptoms and do not pose an immediate threat.
But Ruth Goss, senior cardiac nurse at BHF, urged Sun Health readers to “know their numbers.”
She said: “In England, people over 40 are invited for an NHS health check.
“They will look at your weight, height, age and gender, blood pressure and see what is going on with your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
“They will also check your family history. After you receive your results, you will receive a cardiovascular disease risk score.”
Genetics, gender and age are among the invariable risk factors for heart and circulatory diseases.
Some conditions are inherited, such as cardiomyopathy, which affects around one in 250 people in the UK.
But there are lifestyle changes that can reduce the chances, such as quitting smoking.
“But sometimes people have no risk factors at all and still have a heart attack or stroke,” Ruth said.
“It’s about reducing and managing risks. There is no evidence that it is completely preventable.”
Symptoms you cannot ignore
FIRST, GET A AIR
Shortness of breath can be a sign of a number of diseases: cardiac arrhythmias, valvular disease, cardiomyopathy and heart failure.
Ruth says: “It’s a sign that your heart is unhappy because your breathing rate has increased because your heart has to work harder.”
It is also one of the main signs of a heart attack.
I feel sluggish
Fatigue that occurs even though nothing has changed in your life is cause for concern.
Feeling tired most of the time and finding exercise strenuous can be a sign of heart failure or coronary artery disease.
Ruth says: “If you notice it is getting worse or you are unable to carry out your daily activities, get it checked out.”
An irregular heartbeat may feel like a fluttering in the chest, palpitations, or as if there are extra heartbeats.
Ruth says: “These can be signs of a heart rhythm problem, but it can also be completely normal, like a lot of people have tubal beats or heart palpitations and it just happens.”
“But we would recommend you see your GP and maybe get an ECG to check everything is OK.”
Chest pain must be evaluated independently of other symptoms because it is the main symptom of a heart attack.
It may feel like discomfort, indigestion, a feeling of pressure or squeezing, or a heaviness in the chest that just doesn’t feel right.
Ruth says: “It can feel quite sudden and if it doesn’t go away that’s a warning sign.”
The pain can spread to the arms, back, and jaw or stomach.
Ruth said, “You may also feel sick, sweaty and light-headed.”
Atherosclerosis, when fatty plaques block blood vessels, angina, and heart disease can also cause chest pain.
And peripheral arterial disease, the narrowing or blockage of the vessels between the heart and legs, can lead to sore arms and legs.
REDUCE THE AGE OF YOUR TICKER
No matter your age, there are simple things we can all do to improve heart health.
However, it’s important to make lifestyle changes gradually so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Ruth advised: “Make small changes and take it slowly. Always ask your GP or whoever is responsible for your care.”
You can find out your heart age at nhs.uk/health-assessment-tools/calculate-your-heart-age.
MOVE MORE: Lack of exercise or exercise can cause fatty deposits to form in your arteries.
Ruth said: “By being more physically active you can reduce your risk of heart and circulatory disease by up to 35 percent.”
The NHS recommendation is around 150 minutes a week.
But Ruth added: “If you’re not physically active, start slowly and build up.”
“Aim to do ten minutes today, and try to do those 20 minutes a day next week.
“It could be as simple as a walk in the garden. Any movement is a good movement.”
STUFF IT OUT: Around 13 percent of the British population smokes. And shockingly, of the 160,000 deaths each year from heart and circulatory diseases, about 15,000 are due to smoking.
Ruth said: “The chemicals in cigarettes can make the walls of your arteries sticky, causing the fatty substances to clog the arteries and reduce the space for proper blood flow.”
This can lead to a heart attack or stroke and block the blood vessels that supply oxygen to your heart and brain.
Ruth added: “If you quit smoking, your risk of heart attack after a year is half that of a smoker.”
HALF MEASURES: The recommended alcohol limit is 14 units per week – although this is not risk-free.
Ruth said drinking more “can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, damage to the heart muscle, high blood pressure, heart palpitations and diseases such as stroke, vascular dementia and some cancers”.
She added: “Give yourself several alcohol-free days a week. If you normally drink a large glass of wine, make it small so you drink less and don’t try to drink it all at once.”
MAJOR ISSUES: Get out a tape measure. Ideally, a man’s waist circumference (just above the belly button) should be under 37 inches and a woman’s should be under 31.5 inches.
Ruth said: “Living with overweight or obesity can cause fat to build up in the arteries and cause diseases such as high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart and circulatory disease.”
She advised a healthier diet that focuses on lots of vegetables and fruits, reducing carbohydrates and salt, avoiding cooking in fats and controlling portions.
She added: “Men should consume less than 30g of saturated fat and women less than 20g per day.”
Saturated fats include processed meats, hard cheeses, cream, cookies, cakes, pies and pastries.
CHILL OUT: Stress itself doesn’t cause heart or circulatory disease, but Ruth said: “It can cause you to make decisions that can put your heart health at risk, such as eating unhealthy foods or drinking more alcohol.”
“Many people have stressful lifestyles where some things are unavoidable.
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“But you can help improve your health by taking control of how you respond.”
Take ten minutes out of your day to meditate, record your thoughts so they don’t get blocked, or go for an evening walk instead of watching TV.