Your heart and your health

If you’ve just been diagnosed with a heart problem, it’s normal to feel anxious and confused about exactly what it is, and what it means for your future.

Heart attack or unstable angina are types of heart problems that are known by doctors as ‘acute coronary syndrome’ or ‘ACS’. 

With heart attack or unstable angina, your heart isn’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood. ACS occurs because your coronary arteries have become furred up with fatty substances (called atheroma). It’s similar to how water pipes can become blocked by limescale over time. 

This process can take many years and is known as atherosclerosis. When this build-up blocks your heart’s blood supply, it’s called coronary heart disease.

If the inside lining of your furred-up arteries cracks, a blood clot may form over that crack. This clot can block your artery completely, which starves your heart muscle of oxygen and may permanently damage it. This is a heart attack – also known by the medical term ‘myocardial infarction’.

An episode of unstable angina means the same process has occurred but there isn’t a total blockage, so your heart muscle isn’t being damaged. 

What does a heart attack mean for you? 2

The good news is more people are now surviving a heart attack than ever before – but having one does increase your risk of having another. If you’ve had a heart attack this is a reflection of coronary heart disease and there is an ongoing risk that needs to be managed.

Stroke: assess your risk3

Stroke is another form of cardiovascular disease. Like heart disease, it occurs when normal blood supply is cut off due to a blockage – in this case, to your brain. Because your coronary arteries have become furred up, other arteries could be, too, which means you’re up to three times more likely to have a stroke if you have had heart attack or unstable angina. The good news is that lifestyle changes you make to help your heart will also help to decrease your risk of stroke.

How to reduce your risk

There are many things that you can do to reduce your risk of having another heart attack. From stopping smoking, to drinking only a moderate amount of alcohol, to losing weight and doing more exercise, find out more about the lifestyle changes you can make, and tips on how to make change here.