The heart is an amazing organ. Roughly the size of a fist, it can continue beating even when it’s disconnected from the body. Like all major organs of the body, the heart is susceptible to complications such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) caused by a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries (atheroma). This month Chief Executive of Doctorcall, Dr Charles Levinson, explains why a difference in hormonal balance means men are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease than women and names some simple lifestyle shifts anyone can do to protect their heart.

Can you explain what is cardiovascular disease (CVD)?

CVD is a general term for all conditions affecting the heart and circulatory system such as coronary heart disease (the most common type), stroke, heart attack, angina and aortic disease. There are a number of problems that can arise including clogging up arteries with cholesterol, calcification and loss of elasticity. Although we worry particularly about the coronary arteries because they are essential for life, damage to other arteries can be equally important.


What are some causes of CVD?

Cardiovascular disease is caused by a build-up of fatty deposits inside the arteries, leading to reduced blood supply to end organs and a compensatory increase in blood pressure which, along with the stiffening of artery walls can also lead to a risk of internal haemorrhage. Increasingly, it’s believed that Vitamin D deficiency can also be implicated in cardiovascular disease. You can check for this using a simple test. Doctorcall provides a Vitamin D home testing kit,which is easy to use and enables you to test your Vitamin D count in the comfort of your home. 


What are the leading factors of cardiovascular disease?

There are many risk factors that increase your chances of developing CVD, including things that can be changed (modifiable), and things we can’t control. The leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease are age, gender, and family history (non-modifiable), and those that can be controlled through lifestyle and behaviour, such as smoking, exercise and cholesterol-rich diets. A healthy lifestyle is generally recommended for those with a genetic predisposition to the condition.


Is CVD more prevalent in men than women?

Men are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease than women and this appears to be due to a different hormonal balance, as men have less oestrogen and more testosterone. Women tend to develop CVD at an older age than men, thought to be linked to the hormonal changes that follow menopause, where oestrogen levels fall. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which treats symptoms of menopause, has been shown to slightly reduce CVD risk in women, suggesting it has a cardio-protective effect and that both hormones are likely to be relevant. There is a new trend for male HRT as many men experience a significant drop in testosterone in middle age, but it is not yet known whether male HRT may increase the risk of CVD. Lifestyle choices also come into play, with higher proportions of male to female smokers in the UK, and statistics showing that men are more likely to be overweight or obese than women, another leading risk factor of CVD.


We all know about shooting pains in the left arm, chest pain, and breathlessness but what are some of the hidden indicators or heart issues?

The classic symptoms of angina or a heart attack are a dull pressure in the chest, which tends to be on the left and radiates into the neck and left arm. Some of the other warning signs to look out for include: 


·     Swelling of the ankles during the day into which a thumb print can be left. This means the heart is failing to pump properly and is an important sign that things are going wrong.


·     Obesity, smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise always mean the person is at risk of CVD at a much younger age.


·     It is important to have simple screening tests, of which the main ones are a urine dipstick for protein levels, a blood pressure check and a cholesterol check which can be done with a drop of blood on a reagent strip. Anything picked up here will have life-changing consequences.



What lifestyle shifts can someone make to protect their heart?

There are lots of things you can do but some are not that easy! 


·     Smoking: Stop smoking (the first big win)

·     Maintain a healthy BMI: It is easy to look up your optimum weight by using Google or asking a doctor

·     Regular exercise, regardless of weight: This does not necessitate going to a gym. Walking regularly, getting a cycling machine at home to use for 20 minutes three times a week, or any number of routines can help

·     Diet: Animal fats are rich in cholesterol, which is found in meat fat, egg yolks, dairy cream and cheese. Too much cholesterol leads to build-up in your arteries, so you need to be aware of your intake

·     Health checks: It is important to have BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure tests from time to time. Simple screening tests such as a urine dipstick for protein levels can help


At Doctorcall we believe that prevention is better than cure and as well as home testing kits,we also offer private health checks in our London and Manchester clinics.  It is important to check for warning-signs, and anything picked up here will have life-changing consequences.


To find out more or to book a health check you can book online to get 10% off the cost of the appointment. Alternatively, call us on 0344 257 0346.