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Dublin: 9 °C Monday 17 December, 2018

8 things you can do today to help prevent heart failure

Almost 100,000 people in Ireland live with heart failure.

Image: Unsplash

“A HEART SPECIALIST came down and he said to me ‘I’m not letting you out of this hospital. You’re in serious trouble’.”

These are the words of television presenter Michael Lyster who was diagnosed with heart failure in November 2012. He has shared his full story in the video below.

According to the Irish Heart Foundation, over 90,000 people in Ireland live with heart failure, which the HSE defines as the following:

A medical condition where the heart does not work as efficiently as it should, [...] mean[ing] that your blood can’t deliver enough oxygen and nourishment to your body to allow it to work normally.

The Irish Heart Foundation have just launched a heart failure awareness campaign urging the public to pay attention to the signs of heart failure, supported by Novartis.

The good news is that most people with it live active lives and that some heart failure is preventable. Here’s what you can do today to lessen your chances of developing it.

1. Don’t ignore these three symptoms

If there’s one thing (or more specifically, three) that Michael Lyster wished he hadn’t ignored coming up to his heart failure diagnosis, it was the telltale symptoms he was experiencing. These are the three you should never ignore:

  • Shortness of breath (Lyster describes waking up panting at night)
  • Swollen ankles
  • Fatigue

If you are concerned, here is a full list of possible symptoms and you’ll find a dedicated helpline operated by a nurse at the bottom of the article.

2. Throw out those cigarettes

andrew-pons-14750-unsplash Source: Unsplash

You could make dietary and exercise changes until you literally blue in the face but the single most important step you can make to live longer, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke is to quit smoking once and for all.

According to the Irish Heart Foundation, even passive smoking is enough to cause heart disease, stroke, cancers, asthma in children, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and middle ear infections. If you need some help quitting, visit

3. Look into trying a new class

Not the world’s biggest gym fan? According to the Irish Heart Foundation, over 20% of coronary heart disease and 10% of stroke is due to physical inactivity. As it’s recommended that you get 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, it’s worth finding something that you genuinely enjoy.

If the treadmill doesn’t suit, ditch it for kickboxing, climbing or even a dance class. Most gyms offer a mix of classes, so book yourself into something you wouldn’t usually consider, or get in touch with a new activity centre. If you have underlying health problems, it’s worth checking with your doctor as to the best form of exercise for you.

4. Book a blood pressure check

photo-1519781542704-957ff19eff00 Source: Unsplash

Think you would know if you had high blood pressure? Unfortunately, hypertension usually has no symptoms and over half of those over 45 have high blood pressure. The normal blood pressure is usually 120 over 80 so if your blood pressure is 140 over 90 or higher – you should discuss it with your doctor.

This is important as the higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and poor circulation – issues that can all be avoided if your blood pressure is controlled. The Irish Heart Foundation’s Mobile Health Unit travels the country providing free blood pressure checks – find out when it will be visiting your community (01 6685001).

5. Skip the after-work drinks

Even if you’re not binge drinking, having a few drinks in the evening can quickly tot up past the maximum weekly limits – three pints (six units) constitutes over half of it for women, and over a third for men.

Cutting down on alcohol is a great way of reducing your risk of high blood pressure. It can also reduce your chances of being overweight – a huge risk factor for having a stroke. Alcohol can delay the fat-burning process and if for example, a man is reaching their maximum weekly limits each week, it can lead to weight gain of about 1.5 stone a year.

6. Open up to someone about your stress

headway-537308-unsplash Source: Unsplash

Stress is a ‘normal’ part of everyday life right? Well, while it may be widespread, learning how to manage it better, or lowering it altogether can actually reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Whether it’s a partner, a trusted friend, a parent or a counsellor (or even your boss), opening up about your stress can not only benefit your mental health, it can help to protect your heart health.

7. Cook something new this evening

If you’re partial to frying your food and you’re not really sure what the difference between ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats are, you’ll find loads of heart-friendly recipes here, including chickpea and cauliflower curry, focaccia pizza and grilled lamb pittas.

Taking steps to manage your cholesterol can be one of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease (stroke, heart attack and angina for instance) which is unfortunately the biggest killer of both men and women in Ireland.

8. Ditch the salt at dinner

emmy-smith-187632-unsplash Source: Unsplash

As you get older, salt is increasingly linked to high blood pressure and the longer you live with high blood pressure, the more it can damage your heart and blood vessels – leading to a heart attack or stroke. Around 70% of salt in our diet comes from processed foods, fast food, canteen and restaurant food and 20% comes from adding it at the table.

According to the Irish Heart Foundation, if each person in Ireland reduced their salt intake by half a teaspoon (3g/day) – we’d prevent approximately 900 deaths each year from stroke and heart attack, so try to have a closer look at your food labels.

Michael Lyster shares his experience of living with heart failure in the video below.

Source: Irish Heart Foundation/YouTube

Over 90,000 people in Ireland live with heart failure. However, heart failure doesn’t mean your heart is about to stop – it is a very manageable condition if caught and treated early. If you’re unsure about your symptoms, please contact your doctor or call our helpline nurse on 1800 25 25 50 (Mon-Fri 9-5pm), or visit the Irish Heart Foundation’s website.

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Irish Heart Foundation

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