Last month marked 32 years since the death of my stepfather from a heart attack, which I witnessed at home when I was seventeen. August marks 48 years since my father’s death when I was just over a year old, also from a heart attack which he suffered on his way to work.
Both of these men were relatively young and worked as labourers doing heavy work outside in all weathers. Not uncommonly, neither of them had paid any particular regard to their health. Both of these deaths came like a bolt from the blue.
Last month, I met the British Heart Foundation in Westminster and discovered that, shockingly, 14,100 people in my own North Ayrshire & Arran constituency live with cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease, including heart attacks, is a leading cause of illness and death across the UK. However, there is some good news.
The incidence of coronary heart disease, which is consistently higher in males than females, has fallen over the past decade, with steady downward trend in deaths across Scotland. Importantly, this was achieved in both the most and least deprived communities and across all age groups for both men and women.
For an individual admitted to hospital as an emergency with their first heart attack, their chances of surviving at least 30 days has improved over the last decade from 85.2% to 92.3%, while the number of prescriptions for drugs to treat diseases of the circulation, including cerebrovascular and coronary heart disease, increased by 10.5%. Despite this increase, the cost of prescriptions dispensed for these drugs has halved over the last ten years to £109.5 million in 2014/15.
The SNP Government has put substantial investment into the redesign of cardiology services, contributing hugely to the 43% reduction in mortality rates from coronary heart disease over the last ten years, whilst the number of new cases of coronary heart disease has fallen by over 27%.
In its Heart Disease Improvement Plan published in 2014, the SNP Government set out a comprehensive programme for improving services and care for people with heart disease, focusing on key actions that contribute towards continuing improvement, with an emphasis on measuring the impact of each improvements made.
Tackling heart disease in Scotland remains a national clinical priority for both the Scottish Parliament and our NHS. There can be no room for complacency.
Of course, a vital priority must be on prevention of heart disease. Nowadays we know more about healthy choices, although it is not always easy to make them. We know that a healthy diet can help reduce our risk of heart disease as will staying active through moderate exercise, not smoking and sticking to recommended limits on weekly alcohol intake.
In addition, we must not ignore the early warning signs our body gives us such as discomfort, pressure, heaviness or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone, nausea, vomiting, indigestion (which may feel like heartburn) or abdominal pain, sweating or dizziness. If you suffer from one or more of these symptoms get them checked out by your GP. It may be nothing serious but it could just save your life. Early diagnosis means treatment can begin sooner to help prevent further damage. If heart disease runs in your family, as it does in mine, you should also pay close attention to any early warning signs, regardless of your age. Contrary to popular misconception, this is not a disease confined to the older generations. It can strike at any age. As too many families know to their cost, it is, far too often, fatal.