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.
- There are many different forms of heart disease.
- Treatment depends on which heart condition you have.
- There are things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease.
What are the types of heart disease or heart conditions?
- Atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm.
- Coronary heart disease or ischaemic heart disease – blockage of the coronary arteries that supply blood to your heart. Depending on how quick the blockage happens, coronary heart disease can include angina or heart attack.
- Congenital heart disease – a condition people are born with in which your heart hasn't developed properly.
- Heart failure – happens your heart can't pump as well as it needs to.
- Rheumatic fever – often causes damage to the valves of your heart.
- Heart valve disease – refers to damaged heart valves.
How does your heart work?
Source: Heart Foundation, NZ
How can I work out 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.
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.
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:
- control your blood pressure
- lower your cholesterol
- be smoke-free – quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
- follow a heart-healthy eating pattern
- be physically active.
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), 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?
What happens when I am discharged from hospital?
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 if 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 is 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.