Heart disease is a general term to include a wide range of conditions that affect your heart.
Key points about heart disease
- Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- It is also a major cause of disability and other ongoing health problems.
- Your risk of heart disease is affected by many different factors. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of having heart disease.
- Some risk factors can’t be changed, but other risk factors can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle choices.
- Doing a heart risk assessment will help you find out what your risk of heart disease is and what changes you need to make to reduce your risk.
What are the types of heart disease?
Heart disease is a general term used to describe any type of disorder that affects your heart. It includes conditions that affect your heart’s muscle, valves, blood vessels or rhythm.
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
Learn more about the most common heart conditions, their causes, symptoms, prevention, diagnosis and treatment options.
How does the heart work?
Source: Heart Foundation, NZ
What are the risk factors for heart disease?
There are many different factors that shape your risk of getting heart disease. Some of these you can’t change, such as your age, sex and ethnicity. However, there are other factors you can change, such as whether you smoke, what you eat and drink and how much you exercise.
By making healthy choices every day, you reduce your risk of heart disease.
Learn more about risk factors for heart disease.
How do I know if I am at risk of heart disease?
A heart risk assessment will help you find out your risk of heart disease by building a picture of your risk based on factors such as your age, sex, ethnicity, cholesterol levels, smoking history, blood pressure, family history and other health conditions. The more information you provide and the more involved you are in the testing procedures, the better the result of your assessment by your doctor will be.
Different people need a heart risk assessment at different ages. Find out more about heart risk assessment.
My Heart Check
As well as seeing your GP for a heart risk assessment, you can check your heart health with My Heart Check. It's a free online heart health check designed for Kiwis by the Heart Foundation.
It can estimate your heart age compared to your actual age, as well as giving you an estimate of your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years. Note that this free online tool works best for people aged 30–75. You can still use it if you are older or younger, but your result may be less accurate. You can use this information to help your GP to further evaluate your heart risk and advise about testing methods appropriate for you.
Use My Heart Check to find out about your heart health.
How can I reduce my risk of heart disease?
You can help reduce your risk of heart disease by taking steps to change the factors that put you at greater risk:
- be smokefree – quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
- control your blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medicine
- lower your cholesterol if it's high through changes to your diet and medicine if needed
- aim for a healthy body weight
- manage your blood glucose levels well (if you have diabetes)
- eat for a healthy heart
- follow low-risk drinking advice
- be physically active
- learn to manage stress
- seek help if you feel depressed.
Learn more about risk factors for heart disease.
How is heart disease diagnosed?
There are several different tests and investigations used to check on your heart health and to diagnose and monitor any heart condition you may have. These include an ECG (electrocardiogram) either at rest or under exercise stress, an echocardiogram and coronary angiography.
The tests your doctor chooses for you will depend on your risk of heart disease, your history of heart problems and the symptoms you might have.
Read more about heart conditions tests and procedures.
How is heart disease treated?
There are a number of treatments for heart disease, depending on the condition. This may include medicines, procedures such as coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty (stent) and valve surgery. Serious forms of heart disease that affect the ability of your heart to continue pumping properly may involve a transplant.
If you need surgery for your heart condition, there are a few things you need to do or keep track of after you are discharged from the hospital.
- Cardiac rehabilitation – cardiac rehabilitation is the term used to describe the education, training and support for people who have had a heart attack or developed heart disease. Ask your doctor about what is available in your area. Read more about cardiac rehabilitation.
- Taking your medicines – you will need to take your medicines regularly as prescribed by your doctor. This is to make sure that you recover well from your heart disease or heart surgery. Some of these may need to be taken for life.
- Healthy lifestyle – it's important that you maintain a healthy lifestyle even after your heart disease has been treated or you have recovered. This includes healthy eating and drinking, stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising according to your ability and good control of your diabetes or cholesterol level.
- Attending follow-up appointments – your doctor may set up appointments for you a few weeks to months after you have been discharged. It is important to attend these appointments as this gives your doctor a good idea of how well you are recovering and whether any further treatment is needed.
For more information about the recovery process, see the Heart Foundation’s booklet Living well after a heart attack.
What support is available to me with heart disease?
Heart Help is the go-to place for information and support for people living with heart disease, and for their family/whānau and friends. You will also find resources and opportunities for staying connected with the Heart Help community.
|After 45 years of GP experience, and 8 years as an examiner and practice assessor, Dr Bryan Frost has completed a Diploma in Editing and is pursuing a new career. He also has a Diploma in Health Administration, with honours in management, and has also completed a paper in Health Care Law.|