Stroke and Heart health
Get yourself an NHS Health Check
The NHS Health Check is your chance to get your free midlife MOT. For adults in England aged 40-74 without a pre-existing condition, it checks your circulatory and vascular health and what your risk of getting a disabling vascular disease is.
If you're in the 40-74 age group without a pre-existing condition, you can expect to receive a letter from your GP or local authority inviting you for a free NHS Health Check. Don't worry if you haven't got your invitation yet, as you will be invited for one over the next few years. In the meantime, there are other ways of getting your health checked.
As we get older, we have a higher risk of developing something dangerous like high blood pressure, heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Your NHS Health Check can spot early signs and help prevent these happening to you, which means you'll be more likely to enjoy life for longer. Start by taking the online heart age test to see how healthy your heart is.
Once you've had your NHS Health Check, your healthcare professional will discuss your results with you. You'll be given advice and support to help you lower your risk and maintain or improve your vascular health. But you don't have to wait until your NHS Health Check appointment to make healthy changes.
Healthy Peterborough offer NHS Health Checks - download our self referral form here or complete the form online here
Check your heart age
Did you know that your heart age can be older than your actual age?
Use this tool to find out if your heart age is higher or lower than your actual age.
Anyone over 30 can use the tool, even if you don't know your blood pressure and cholesterol.
However, without these numbers, your result will be an estimate and we recommend you get tested to get an accurate result.
The calculator works out your lifetime risk and heart age using information such as your family history of heart disease and your lifestyle choices, including whether you smoke. These risk factors are used to predict how many more years you can expect to live before you have a heart attack or stroke compared with someone without these particular factors – if you don't take action to improve your health.
"The risk calculator can now estimate cardiovascular risk over a much longer period than the 10-year risk," explains Dr Iain Simpson, a consultant cardiologist involved in developing the calculator.
"The problem with the 10-year risk is that it is biased in favour of age and females."
For example, a 35-year-old female smoker with high blood pressure (160 systolic pressure) and a high cholesterol level (7), plus a family history of heart disease, would have a true heart age of 47 and expect to survive to the age of 71 without having a heart attack or stroke. Her 10-year risk would be calculated as less than 2% because she is female and fairly young.
But the lifetime risk calculator shows that if she quit smoking and brought her blood pressure and cholesterol down into the healthy range, her heart age would fall to 30. She could expect to live to the age of 85 before having a heart attack or stroke and more than halve her 10-year risk to less than 0.25%.
"Knowing your lifetime risk allows you to invest in your cardiovascular health for the future," says Dr Simpson.
"This risk calculator aims to give power back to the patient and help them to make more informed decisions about how to manage their risk. It promotes lifestyle changes as early as possible and drug therapy only when necessary for the right people at the right time."
So there are some things about your risk that you can't change – like your age or family history. But the good news is that the most important factors in your risk score are changeable.
What's your heart age? Take the heart age test now.
Can you act F.A.S.T.?
Strokes are a medical emergency and urgent treatment is essential because the sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.
The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word FAST: Face - Arms - Speech - Time.
Take the test to learn more about the signs of a stroke and to make sure you know what to do in an emergency.
See what happens to the brain during a stroke
This animation explains how a stroke happens, the different types of stroke and how lifestyle changes may help to reduce the risks.
Peterborough Stroke Information Café takes place Mondays 11am-12.30pm at Sainsbury's Cafe. It offers an opportunity for anyone affected by stroke to meet with others for peer support, information, advice and guidance on where to go for support in the local area.
The Stroke Helpline (0303 303 3100) provides information and support on stroke. More information can be found at the stroke association website.
5 ways to keep your heart healthy
Keeping your heart healthy, whatever your age, is the most important thing you can do to help prevent and manage heart disease.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death both in the UK and worldwide. Lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease. You can do this by:
Eating a well balanced healthy diet
Check those food labels. Too much saturated fat, sugar and salt in products like cakes, biscuits, sausages, cream, cereals and fizzy drinks, will increase your cholesterol, waistline and your risk of developing heart disease. Find out how much sugar is in your food and drink by scanning in your barcode to Change4life’s new Sugar Swap app.
Physical activity can help reduce your risk of heart disease. It can also help you control your weight, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol and improve your mental health – helping you to look and feel great. If heading to the gym isn’t your thing there are still plenty of ways to get active. Find an exercise you enjoy as you’re more likely to stick to it. Or simply do things like take the stairs or walk the kids to school.
Drinking less alcohol
Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can have a harmful effect on your heart and general health. It can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers. It’s all about moderation. Drink less than 14 units per week, limiting the amount you drink in any one session, to reduce the risk of developing serious health conditions. Download MyDrinkAware - an app to help you track what you’re drinking.
Stubbing out the cigarettes
If you’re a smoker, stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect the health of your heart. Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared with people who have never smoked. Stopping smoking has huge benefits and it’s never too late to give up. The good news is once you stop smoking your health improves and your body begins to recover. There is lots of help available to support you. Call the local Stop Smoking service on freephone 0800 376 56 55.
Getting a free midlife MOT
The NHS Health Check is for adults aged 40-74 without a pre-existing condition. As we get older, we have a higher risk of developing something dangerous like high blood pressure, heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Your NHS Health Check can spot early signs and help prevent these happening to you, which means you’ll be more likely to enjoy life for longer. If you’ve not had yours yet, call your GP.
Reducing your risk of stroke
The best way to help prevent a stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
A stroke is a serious, life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Every year, around 110,000 people in England have a stroke, it is the third largest cause of death and a major cause of adult disability. Up to 80 per cent of strokes are preventable by making changes to your lifestyle. Having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and clogged arteries, gives you a higher risk of a stroke. You can reduce your stroke risk by:
You can reduce your stroke risk by:
Staying a healthy weight and eating less salt
An unhealthy diet can increase your chances of having a stroke because it may lead to an increase in your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Eat a low-fat, high-fibre and balanced diet, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains. You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (approximately 1 teaspoon) a day because too much salt will increase your blood pressure. Limit foods that are high in salt and processed foods. Being overweight increases your risk of having a stroke by 22%, and 64% risk if you’re obese.
Doing more exercise
Regular exercise can help to lower your blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight. Regular moderate exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by 27%. Any amount of exercise will help, but if you can manage it, you should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week. You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once, it can be broken up into smaller blocks of time throughout the day.
You are twice as likely to die from stroke if you smoke. Smoking leads to high blood pressure, damages your arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot. If you stop smoking, you can reduce your risk of having a stroke and will also improve your general health and reduce your risk of developing other serious conditions. There is lots of help available to support you. Call the local Stop Smoking service on freephone 0800 376 56 55.
Cutting down on alcohol
Drinking too much alcohol raises your blood pressure and causes weight gain. If your blood pressure is too high, it puts a strain on your arteries and heart, which can lead to stroke. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous as it can cause your blood pressure to rise very quickly. You are three times more likely to suffer a stroke if you drink heavily. Drink less than 14 units per week spread over 3 days or more to reduce your stroke risk. Download MyDrinkAware - an app to help you track what you’re drinking.
Medical treatment for risk factors
If you have been diagnosed with a condition known to increase your risk of stroke – such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat), diabetes or transient ischaemic attack (‘mini-stroke’) – ensuring the condition is well controlled medically is also important in helping prevent strokes. Lifestyle changes can help control these conditions, but you may also need to take regular medication. A free NHS Health Check for adults aged 40-74 can spot early signs of some conditions. If you’ve not had yours yet, call your GP.
Know your blood pressure numbers
High blood pressure (hypertension) puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. If untreated, over time this extra pressure can increase your risk of a stroke and other conditions such as kidney disease and vascular dementia. Many people are unaware that they have high blood pressure as it rarely has noticeable symptoms. The only way of knowing there is a problem is to have your blood pressure checked. All adults should have their blood pressure checked regularly (at least every five years for healthy adults and more frequently if at high risk). Having this done is easy and could save your life. Adults aged 40-74 will have their blood pressure checked as part of their NHS Health Check or you can ask your GP to check your blood pressure at any time.
When your blood pressure is measured it will be written as two numbers, for example 120/80. You would read this as ‘120 over 80’. Both of these numbers are very important. The higher they are, the higher your risk of health problems in the future. Ideally, your blood pressure reading should be below 120/80mmHg (for the lowest possible risk of disease). However, anything under 130/80mmHg is generally considered normal. You are said to have high blood pressure if readings on separate occasions consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90mmHg or higher. Having a raised blood pressure reading in one test does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure as blood pressure can fluctuate throughout the day.
Your chances of having high blood pressure increase as you get older. There isn't always a clear cause of high blood pressure but you are at increased risk if you lead an unhealthy lifestyle, are aged over 65, have a relative with high blood pressure, are of African or Caribbean descent or drink too much coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks). The good news is that high blood pressure scores can be brought down by making changes such as cutting down on salt, caffeine and alcohol, losing weight, becoming more active and stopping smoking. If necessary, your doctor may prescribe you blood pressure-lowering drugs, but they may want you to try to make changes to your habits first.
The only way to know what your blood pressure is, is to have it measured. It is important to know what your blood pressure numbers are, and to lower them if you need to. You can find advice on leading a healthy lifestyle on this website.”
What is a stroke?
A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off. Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to your brain. Without blood your brain cells can be damaged or die. This damage can have different effects, depending on where it happens in your brain. A stroke can affect the way your body works as well as how you think, feel and communicate.
Different types of stroke
Most strokes are caused by a blockage cutting off the blood supply to the brain. This is an ischaemic stroke. However, strokes can also be caused by a bleeding in or around the brain. This is a haemorrhagic stroke.
A transient ischaemic attack or TIA is also known as a mini-stroke. It is the same as a stroke, except that the symptoms last for a short amount of time and no longer than 24 hours. This is because the blockage that stops the blood getting to your brain is temporary.
What causes stroke?
As we age our arteries become harder and narrower and more likely to become blocked. However, certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors can speed up this process and increase your risk of having a stroke.
Can you recover from stroke?
All strokes are different. For some people the effects may be relatively minor and may not last long. Others may be left with more serious problems that make them dependent on other people. Unfortunately not everyone survives – around one in eight people die within 30 days of having a stroke. That’s why it’s so important to be able to recognise the symptoms and get medical help as quickly as possible. The quicker you receive treatment, the better your chances for a good recovery.
Know your cholesterol numbers
Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is vital for the normal functioning of the body. It's mainly made by the liver, but are also found in some foods. However, it is foods that are high in saturated fat which leads to elevated Cholesterol levels.
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins, and when the two combine they're called lipoproteins. The total cholesterol values are made of of two main types of lipoprotein:
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – which carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it's either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product. For this reason, HDL is referred to as "good cholesterol" and higher levels are better.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – which carries cholesterol to the cells that need it. If there's too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the artery walls, leading to disease of the arteries. For this reason, LDL is known as "bad cholesterol".
The amount of cholesterol in the blood (both HDL and LDL) can be measured with a blood test. The recommended cholesterol levels in the blood vary between those with a higher or lower risk of developing arterial disease.
What should my cholesterol levels be?
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
As a general guide, total cholesterol levels should be:
As a general guide, LDL levels should be:
An ideal level of HDL is above 1 mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can increase your risk of heart disease.
The first step in reducing your cholesterol is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It's important to keep your diet low in fatty food. You can swap food containing saturated fat for fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals. This will also help to prevent high cholesterol returning. Other lifestyle changes, such as taking regular exercise and giving up smoking (if you smoke), can also make a big difference in helping to lower your cholesterol. If these measures don't reduce your cholesterol and you continue to have a high risk of developing heart disease, your GP may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication, such as statins. Your GP will take into account the risk of any side effects from statins, and the benefit of lowering your cholesterol must outweigh any risks.
Adults aged 40-74 will have their cholesterol checked as part of their NHS Health Check. If you are concerned about your cholesterol level, you can ask your GP for a blood test.
Jim's story: We call ourselves stroke survivors, not patients - that's very important
Jim Whyte was forced to give up work after having a stroke, but he’s proved that there is life after stroke.
Jim was getting out of a van when he suddenly felt his left leg turn to jelly. “I fell down, and my workmates got me a chair,” he says. “They brought me a cup of tea, but I couldn’t work out where the handle was to grasp it. Somehow I knew I’d had a stroke and asked them to take me to hospital.
“By the time I got there, I didn’t have any feeling in the left side of me. I felt like a lump of meat. I could hardly get out of the car.”
Doctors confirmed that Jim was right; he'd had a stroke. He spent the next 27 weeks in hospital undergoing rehabilitation and physiotherapy. “Luckily, my speech was still all right, though I’m sure my kids and grandchildren sometimes wish I’d be quiet!” he says. “During my time in hospital I regained around 85% use of my hand and arm. I’m actually very lucky.”
Jim had high blood pressure and was diabetic, which are both risk factors for stroke. However, he had never smoked and, due to his diabetes, was already following the healthy diet recommended for stroke survivors.
“My wife was a chef and she made sure we ate properly,” he says. He was put on tablets for high blood pressure and now has regular checks. “When I had the stroke, I had no idea I had high blood pressure,” he says.
Jim had his stroke more than 10 years ago. Although it forced him to give up work, he makes a point of leading an active, healthy lifestyle. He attends his local stroke survivors club every week, which includes exercise sessions, talks from experts and a blood-pressure check.
“It’s also a great place to share advice and make friends,” says Jim. “It’s good to talk about any problems you’re having with people who have been through the same thing. I’d recommend any stroke survivors to contact the Stroke Association to get information on their nearest club.” He also visits stroke survivors in hospital.
Jim believes there is life after stroke. “We call ourselves stroke survivors, not patients; that’s very important. When you’ve had a stroke, the most important thing to do is accept it. Unless you do that, it’s difficult to move forward. But once you do, you’ll realise that you can live a very happy, active life. I certainly do!”