Heart disease can affect people at different ages. Younger people may be affected by inherited or congenital conditions. Coronary heart disease is classically associated with being an old man’s disease, however younger men and women are also affected by heart disease, but their symptoms are not always recognised. Women are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment, despite the warning signs. Raising awareness may help prevent heart disease. Identification and prevention of heart disease can potentially save lives. Cardiac screening enables early diagnosis, management and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart and circulatory disease and usually starts affecting people over the age of 40. It occurs when coronary arteries become narrowed by a build-up of atheroma, a fatty material within their walls. The pain or discomfort felt from this narrowing is called angina and if a blockage occurs it can lead to a heart attack.
There is increasing awareness of sudden cardiac death in young people which is statistically uncommon but widely publicised. It occurs unexpectedly in apparently healthy individuals during maximal vigorous physical activity. Sudden cardiac death can be associated with conditions of the heart such as arrhythmias, structural abnormalities and an inherited condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is a condition where areas of heart muscle become thickened and stiff, this makes it harder for the heart to contract and pump blood out to the body and leads to complications.
There are simple ways to diagnose heart disease, including having an ECG (electrocardiogram). This is a test used to check the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity. Small electrodes are attached to the skin and are used to detect the electrical signals produced by the heart as it beats. The test is simple and painless.
Risk factors for coronary heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes and lack of exercise. Many of these risk factors are modifiable and heart disease can be prevented.
Screening involves consultation and physical examination with a doctor, including blood pressure assessment, blood tests and an ECG. Further investigations may include specialised tests, such as echocardiogram which is similar to an ultrasound and gives a detailed view of structures of heart; or CT coronary angiogram for assessment of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Appropriate management, and personalised lifestyle advice is offered to reduce risk factors. Treatment can be initiated if necessary, referrals and access to specialists can be arranged.
In addition clinics such at The Bowskill clinic help support patients once they have had the necessary tests and recommendations in lifestyle changes.