Heart Disease

Heart Disease 
•    What is heart disease? 
•    Signs and symptoms of heart disease
•    Risk factors & prevention 
•    Living with heart disease 

What is heart disease? 
Heart disease is a general term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the heart, such as coronary artery disease, heart valve problems and arrythmias. It is a leading cause of death worldwide and can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices (such as smoking and poor diet) and underlying medical conditions (such as high blood pressure and diabetes). There are different names for heart disease- such as coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease. 
The type and severity of the heart disease can determine the symptoms and treatment options. 

Signs and Symptoms of heart disease
Signs and symptoms of heart disease can vary depending on the type and severity. 
Some common symptoms are: 

•    Chest pain or discomfort, often described as pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the centre or left side of chest. 
•    Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity or when lying down. 
•    Fatigue or weakness. 
•    Light-headedness or dizziness. 
•    Rapid of irregular heartbeat. 
•    Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet. 
•    Nausea or vomiting. 
•    A cold sweat

It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any signs of symptoms of heart disease, as prompt treatment can help prevent more serious problems. Sometimes you can have heart disease without any signs of symptoms- which is why regular check-ups are important. 

Risk factors and prevention
There are several risk factors that can increase your risk of heart disease. Including: 
1.    Age: The risk of heart disease increases as you get older. 
2.    Family History: If you have a family history of heart disease, you may be at an increased risk. 
3.    Smoking: Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, as it damages the blood vessels and increases the build-up of plaque in the arteries.
4.    High blood pressure: High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. 
5.    High cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of plaque build-up in the arteries. 
6.    Diabetes: People with diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease, due to the damage that high blood sugar levels can cause blood vessels. 
7.    Physical inactivity: Lack of physical activity can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. 
8.    Poor diet: A diet high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar can increase your risk of heart disease 
9.    Being overweight or obese: Can increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, due to the increased levels of fat in the body. 
10.     Stress: Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease by increasing blood pressure levels, heart rate and releasing stress hormones. 

It is important to be aware of these risk factors and to make lifestyle changes accordingly, to reduce your risk of heart disease. Regular check-ups and tests can also help detect heart disease early and prevent more serious consequences. 

Living with heart disease 
Living with heart disease requires making lifestyle changes and following your doctor’s recommendations to manage your condition and reduce your risk of complications. Some tips for living with heart disease include: 
1.    Take medication as prescribed: It is important to take your medication exactly as directed to help control your symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. 
2.    Follow a healthy diet: A diet low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugars can help control your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. 
3.    Physical activity: Studies show physical activity can greatly help improve heart health, circulation and reduce stress. As well as helping to manage symptoms of heart disease. 
4.    Quit smoking: If you smoke, quitting is one of the most important steps you can take to improve your heart health. 
5.    Manage stress: Chronic stress can increase your risk of heart related ailments such as heart attacks, finding a healthy way to manage stress is vital when living with heart disease. 
6.    Monitor your symptoms: Keep track of any changes in how you are feeling and any deterioration in health and report them to your doctor. 
7.    Keep up to date with your medical care: Regular check-ups and tests can help detect any changes in your condition and prevent more serious complications. 
8.    Join a support group: Talking to others with the same condition can help you get support, learn how self-manage your condition and help you meet others and learn from their experiences. 

Living with heart disease requires commitment and a proactive approach, but by working closely with your doctor and medical team, and by making certain lifestyle choices, you can improve your heart health and ultimately your quality of life. 

•    Overview
•    Symptoms
•    Risk Factors 
•    Management

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition characterized by elevated blood pressure in the arteries. It is a significant health concern worldwide and can lead to various complications if not properly managed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it affects over 1.13 billion people worldwide, accounting for nearly 20% of all deaths globally. In Malta, hypertension is a significant concern, with approximately 33% of the adult population estimated to be affected by this condition. Hypertension can be caused by multiple factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, and underlying medical conditions. It can lead to severe complications such as heart attack, stroke or kidney damage.

Symptoms of hypertension often go unnoticed, earning it the nickname "the silent killer." However, in some cases, individuals may experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Regular check-ups and monitoring are crucial as hypertension can be present without noticeable symptoms.

Risk Factors 
Various risk factors contribute to the development of hypertension. Age is a prominent factor, with the risk of hypertension increasing as individuals grow older. Other significant risk factors include a family history of hypertension, smoking, stress, physical inactivity, poor diet, excessive salt intake, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease.

Effective management of hypertension involves a combination of lifestyle modifications and medication, if necessary. The following strategies can help control blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of complications:
Diet- a balanced diet low in salt, saturated fats, and processed foods and rich in fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, and lean proteins can help lower blood pressure.
Physical activity- regular exercise, such as brisk walking, running or swimming, can contribute to better blood pressure control.
Maintaining a healthy weight- Losing excess weight or maintaining a healthy weight can significantly reduce blood pressure.
Smoking- damages blood vessels and raises blood pressure, so quitting smoking is crucial for hypertension management.
Managing stress- relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness, can help manage stress and lower blood pressure.
Alcohol- excessive alcohol intake can raise blood pressure, so it is important to consume alcohol in moderation.
Monitor blood pressure- regular monitoring allows individuals to track their blood pressure levels and make necessary adjustments to their treatment plan.

In some cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe medication to manage hypertension. The choice of medication depends on factors such as the severity of hypertension and the presence of other medical conditions. Commonly prescribed drugs for hypertension in Malta may include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (such as Perindopril or Enalapril), angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) (such as valsartan), diuretics (bumetanide, spironolactone), beta-blockers (atenolol, carvedilol), calcium channel blockers (amlodipine), among others. These medications work by different mechanisms to lower blood pressure and may be used alone or in combination.
It is essential for individuals with hypertension to follow their prescribed medication regimen strictly and attend regular medical check-ups. Monitoring blood pressure levels helps healthcare professionals assess the effectiveness of the treatment plan and make any necessary adjustments. 
In some cases, 24-hour blood pressure monitoring may be recommended to obtain a comprehensive understanding of blood pressure patterns throughout the day.
By implementing these lifestyle changes, adhering to medication when prescribed, and collaborating closely with healthcare professionals, individuals with hypertension can effectively manage their condition, reduce the risk of complications, and improve their overall quality of life.
If you would like to learn more about self-management and managing your hypertension- you can join our self-management programme ‘Hu Kontroll’ for persons living with chronic conditions.