Are you at risk of cardiovascular disease?

Dr Ann Shortt works as both a GP in Brooklands Medical Centre, Castlebar, and in emergency medicine in Galway. Her area of special interest is preventative medicine.

How many of the following boxes do you tick?

Aged over 35

Male

Less than 30 minutes physical activity per day

Fast food more than once per fortnight

Cholesterol high or unknown

Alcohol – drink more than 10 pints per week

The more of these boxes that you have ticked, the greater your cardiovascular risk. Men in their thirties have a habit of never going to the doctor, generally when they do come in, it’s about a sore back or a cough and it comes as a complete shock when they discover they have high blood pressure. Increasingly, Irish men have found themselves feeling the brunt of financial stress and having a lifestyle that is moving away from physical activity. One of the things we do as part of our detailed health screening is to calculate your cardiovascular risk score.

This score accurately predicts the likelihood of you having a stroke, angina or a heart attack in the next 10 years. Many of the younger men we have screened have had surprisingly high scores. It is often upwards of 20 per cent, meaning that there is a 5/1 chance of them having a serious health condition within the next 10 years.

The whole purpose of calculating the score is that for people at high risk (>20 per cent ) research has shown some benefit to preventative measures, ranging from diet and exercise to taking certain preventative medication.

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidelines are widely regarded as medical best practice. They suggest that anyone with a risk score over 20 per cent consider taking a cholesterol lowering tablet called a statin.

Keep in mind that the best option is sorting out your own cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk factors to bring your score back under 20 per cent with diet and exercise. Tablets are last resort, but doing neither with a high cardiovascular risk score you take your chances.

Common risk factors that you can change or modify:

High blood pressure

Smoking

High sugar levels

High intake of salt

Fatty foods

High alcohol use

Being overweight

Lack of exercise

Irregular heart beat

Risk factors that you can’t change:

Increasing age

Being male

Family history of cardiovascular disease

Knowing your cardiovascular risk score is a useful in its own right or as part of an annual full health screening.

Detailed full health screening with a personal written report is not covered by the medical card and not all GPs are in a position to do it as it takes about an hour for the medical and two more hours to write the report.

For further information see www.fullhealth.ie or contact Brooklands Medical Centre, Castlebar, on 094 902 6411.

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