Heart health & heart disease FAQs

Health correspondent

The British Heart Foundation's most asked questions.



1 Could I take natural remedies instead of all those prescription drugs?

We explain the potential benefits and risks of taking medicines - often the consequences of not taking them can be quite dangerous for certain conditions.

We also remind people that there are potential side effects with 'natural' products as well. Our aim is to give common sense information so people can make the best choices for them.

2  What does coronary heart disease mean?

Many people just want to understand what the condition means for them. For example, they may be concerned about what tests they need to undergo, such as an angiogram (an X-ray picture of the blood vessels which shows where the arteries are narrowed and how narrow they have become).

Many patients find their GPs are too busy to answer all their questions, but the Heart Information team can take the time needed to explain and answer many questions people may have.

3 Why is high cholesterol important?

Many people call us because they don't understand what high cholesterol is, but around 66% of men and women in England have higher cholesterol levels than they should.

The team explains exactly how high cholesterol can affect the heart and why statins can be beneficial to some people. We also explain what kind of changes people can make to their lifestyle in order to lower their cholesterol level - it helps people to feel in control of the situation.

4 How can I bring my blood pressure down?

This is something that worries a lot of people. It could be because they have been prescribed medication for high blood pressure and want to make changes to their lifestyle but are not sure how to do this.

The team can run through the patient's current lifestyle and explain what positive changes they could make, such as cutting down on salt and being more physically active.

The team has numerous booklets, videos and DVDs produced by the BHF which they can send out to callers so they can digest the information in their own time. The booklet on blood pressure is one of the most popular.

5 What causes palpitations?

Palpitations make people anxious and the team aims to reassure and inform worried callers about the possible causes, which include stress and anxiety as well as abnormal heartbeats.

We explain what tests may be carried out and the treatments used for abnormal heartbeats.

6 Am I eating the right things?

Many people are confused about what they should be eating to either lose weight or improve their heart health and it can help to talk it over with someone. The team explains how to make small changes which can make a big difference.

Many people find food labels hard to understand and we try to explain as simply as possible how to choose healthy foods and cut down on saturated fat which can help lower cholesterol levels. We also have a free wallet-sized food labelling guide to make shopping easier.

7 What can I do to keep active?

Only 37% of men and 25% of women in England manage to do the recommended 30 minutes of exercise five times a week. Many callers are confused and believe that the only way to improve your activity levels is to go to a gym and sweat it out on the treadmill, but this isn't the case.

The team try to arm people with a whole range of ways they can make a difference - from small changes like taking the stairs instead of the lift to ideas for other forms of physical activity like dancing or cycling.

8 How are valve problems treated?

We can explain the types of tests that are carried out to diagnose valvular heart disease and how it is treated. There are different types of this condition which can affect the flow of blood around the body in two ways:

If the valve does not open fully, it will obstruct the flow of blood. This is called 'valve stenosis'.

If the valve does not close properly, it will allow blood to leak backwards. This is called 'valve incompetence' or 'regurgitation'.

9 What's the best way to lose weight?

The BHF gets many calls about a widely publicised fad diet called the "Three day diet" ' which is nothing to do with the charity and is actually quite unhealthy; we certainly wouldn't recommend anyone to try it. 

Instead the team talk callers through sensible and practical ways to lose weight without resorting to fad diets which will not work in the long term and which can, in some cases, even damage your health.

We advise callers that the best thing they can do is to tackle one area of their lifestyle at a time and set realistic goals for their weight loss by following a sensible plan - that's the best way to ensure success.

10 How can I cope with stress?

There is no evidence that stress causes coronary heart disease but it is associated with it. While some of us thrive on stress - it's what makes us get up in the morning  -  others hate it. How you cope with stress is what really matters.

Going for a brisk walk to burn off the stress helps reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. But if you chomp on loads of chocolate or light up while knocking back loads of alcohol then your stress coping mechanism is increasing your risk of coronary heart disease. We try to help people to identify healthy ways of dealing with day-to-day stress.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.