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I have heart disease, what does it mean?

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Posted on 29th July 2021.

A heart disease diagnosis can have a tremendous impact on your life, not least the emotional toll it can have on you and your loved ones. We understand that even after discussing the condition with your doctor, it can feel like a lot remains unknown and some people may even experience feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Coming to terms with a heart condition can be an overwhelming time, you may have some unanswered questions about living with it and what you can do to look after your wellbeing. We have partnered with The British Heart Foundation to support their lifesaving research into heart and circulatory conditions, and help you better understand your heart disease.

During 2019/2020, the British Heart Foundation’s wider charitable expenditure was £128 million, all of which contributes to life-saving research and support for heart patients. Alongside their invaluable research and support, we wanted to share an article to help contribute to a better understanding of heart disease and what you can do to live well with it.

Coping with diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a condition such as heart disease is a life-changing event, it can affect you psychologically, as well as physically. A survey conducted by the British Heart Foundation found that 68% of participants stated that their heart condition affected their emotional wellbeing, with anxiety being the most common symptom. The survey also found that 38% of participants felt that other people didn’t understand how the condition affected them.

It is important to remember that you’re not alone, not only are there 7.6 million people living with a heart or circulatory condition in the UK but there are numerous avenues of support available to you, as well as loved ones who care about you. Although you may have concerns about talking to loved ones about your experience with your heart condition and how you are feeling, it can be beneficial to share the load. Some people may find discussing their heart condition therapeutic, and others may experience feelings of trepidation vocalising how they feel.

There are also support groups and online communities where you can connect with other people with heart and circulatory conditions, get support and share your experiences. If you have experienced feelings of anxiety discussing your heart disease with loved ones, you may find a support group more beneficial, it is an environment where many people often feel more comfortable to ask questions and offer advice. Whether you’re looking to discuss your heart disease for the first time or be more open with loved ones about how you’re feeling, approach the topic in your own time and when you feel comfortable.


Common Symptoms

Symptoms of heart disease can vary from person to person and whilst there are some symptoms to look out for, we recommend talking to your GP about any concerns. According to The British Heart Foundation, the most common symptoms of heart disease are:

  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations – your heartbeat could slow down or speed up or you might notice a fluttering or racing sensation. It is important to remember that palpitations are very common and although they are unpleasant to experience, they are usually harmless.
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or faint
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest pain, tightness, and discomfort – it can feel constricting and heavy. You may also experience pain or numbness in your arm.
  • If you’ve not been diagnosed with angina and experience chest pain, call 999 immediately.
  • If you’ve already been diagnosed with angina, you may experience angina pain or discomfort that you can manage by taking your glyceryl trinitrate (GTN) spray or tablets, and resting. However, it could be a heart attack so if you experience the following, call 999 immediately:
  •  A crushing pain, heaviness or tightness in your chest.
  • A pain in your arm, shoulder, throat, neck, jaw, back or stomach.
  • Become sweaty, feel light-headed, sick or become short of breath.


How to Stay Healthy with Heart Disease

Many people live very well with their heart disease, and alongside your doctor to decide on treatments and lifestyle changes, there is plenty you can do to help you to stay healthy with your heart condition. From your diet to how much you exercise, your lifestyle choices can make significant changes to your heart health. If you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease, the following factors can help contribute to your wellbeing:

  • A healthy diet – your diet has a huge part to play in your heart health, it impacts your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and your weight, which can be both risk factors for developing heart disease and also influence how well you live with your condition. A healthy, balanced diet can slow down the effects of heart disease and prevent further illnesses, such as experiencing a heart attack. A balanced diet that promotes good heart health should include lots of fruit and vegetables, as well as fibre, wholegrains and lean protein.
  • Regular exercise and active lifestyle – exercising regularly is key to living well with heart disease, not only can it help improve your heart health, but it can also improve symptoms and help reduce the discomfort you may experience with heart disease. An active lifestyle contributes to a stronger and healthier heart, it can also reduce blood pressure and help you to maintain a healthy weight. Whether you can start the day with some chair exercises or get out for a short, daily walk, there are many ways to stay active.
  • Stop smoking – although it can feel intimidating, quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do for your heart health. When you smoke, the chemicals in cigarettes make the inner walls of your arteries sticky and cause fatty materials to get stuck and build up over time. The narrowing of your arteries increases the risk of a blockage, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. We understand that stopping smoking doesn’t happen overnight, but with support and guidance, you can quit and contribute to a healthier heart.
  • Educate yourself – the more you know about and understand your heart condition, the more equipped you will be to make informed decisions about your treatment and how to look after your heart health. Consider learning more about risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity and how to control them, you may find it easier to make positive changes to your lifestyle if you understand how you can influence and prevent risk factors.

We know that people often experience feelings of helplessness following their diagnosis, but it is important to remember that ultimately you are in control of your lifestyle and with your choices, you can influence your heart health and live well with heart disease.


Support for heart disease

The British Heart Foundation is dedicated to funding life-saving research for heart and circulatory conditions and their risk factors and the research they’ve funded has helped to transform how we approach heart health. The research they fund helps to improve the prevention and treatment of heart and circulatory conditions, as well as providing invaluable support and guidance to those affected by heart disease and other related conditions. If you’d like some help to live well with heart disease, Helping Hands provide support that takes care of your physical and mental wellbeing and promotes your independence at home, whether it be live-in care or visiting care. From help with a healthy diet and becoming more active, to attending hospital appointments and collecting your medication, our support is tailored to you, your medical and personal needs. We understand that people often experience upheavals to their lifestyle following a diagnosis, which is why we’re here to support you and help you feel comfortable and confident with changes so that you can live well with heart disease.

For more information, please call 0330 029 8699 or request a callback and we will call you.

Page reviewed by British Heart Foundation, on July 29, 2021

Alice Clough Campaign & Content Executive
About Alice joined the Helping Hands team in January 2021. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Film Studies and writes for her own blog. Read Alice's full profile