It is not uncommon for the first sign of a heart problem to be a major event, such as a heart attack or stroke.
However there are often clues that issues are developing in the cardiovascular system. For example, cholesterol
or blood pressure may be elevated.
Consequently, your doctor checks these and other measures of your heart health whenever you have a check-up.
Other indications of heart problems may include:
Pain in the chest that feels tight, squeezing or constricting may indicate a heart attack, regardless of
whether it comes on suddenly or slowly. The pain may also be experienced in other parts of the body, including
the jaw, arms, back and neck, and may be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and difficulty breathing. Call for an
ambulance, even if you’re not sure that a heart attack has occurred. Rapid medical intervention is essential
An irregular, rapid or fluttery heartbeat
Oedema (fluid retention) of the abdomen and lower limbs
Becoming breathless easily, even when you’re not performing strenuous activities. You may also feel wheezy or cough frequently
Weakness and dizziness
Symptoms of dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus, headache (especially first thing in the morning), nosebleed, nausea or
erectile dysfunction may indicate high blood pressure
Over the long term, high cholesterol levels may cause deposits of cholesterol to form in the tendons (xanthoma)
or eyelids (xanthelasma), and/or discolouration of the outer edge of the cornea (arcus senilis)
Coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common form of heart disease, and is caused by narrowing of the arteries,
which increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke occurring.
High levels of LDL-cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) are a key factor in the development of CAD because they can lead to
the accumulation of fatty deposits in artery walls (atherosclerosis), making the arteries narrower and stiffer.
Low levels of HDL-cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol) may also be involved. Cholesterol levels in the blood depend
on dietary factors (e.g. the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol consumed) and the amount of cholesterol manufactured
by the body (which may involve genetic factors).
Other factors that may contribute to the development of CAD include:
High blood pressure (which may be a consequence of medical problems, but is more often due to lifestyle issues,
including being obese, being physically inactive, and eating a high salt diet).
High triglyceride levels (high levels of fat in the blood)
High levels of a compound called homocysteine
Having a personal or family history of heart problems
Leading an inactive lifestyle
Congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart weakens and becomes unable to effectively perform its
functions, is a serious consequence of CAD. As heart function declines, fluid accumulates in the abdomen, legs,
and lungs, causing the characteristic symptoms of fatigue, oedema and breathlessness.
Heart problems require ongoing treatment and monitoring and are not suitable for self-treatment.
The following information refers to supportive therapy only, and should not replace medical advice.
Do not take any natural health supplements without discussing them with your doctor first, as some
supplements may interact with your prescribed medicines or may not be suitable for your personal
Coenzyme Q10 helps maintain heart and artery health and inhibits the oxidation of LDL–cholesterol.
Oxidised cholesterol is a risk factor for heart and blood vessel problems.
Coenzyme Q10 is often taken with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish oil, which help decrease
fat in the blood (triglycerides) in healthy people. Omega-3s also help to maintain the flexibility of the
blood vessels, help maintain healthy heart rates and help maintain healthy blood pressure.
Plant sterols (also known as phytosterols) may help to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels and improve the
LDL:HDL ratio within the healthy range. They work by lowering cholesterol absorption and reabsorption.
Take a daily dose of 2-3 grams of plant sterols per day, as recommended by the National Heart Foundation
of Australia. Choose a formula that also supplies a healthy dose of betacarotene, which may become depleted
when taking plant sterols.
Antioxidants are often taken with folic acid and the vitamins B6 and B12. Low intake of these B vitamins is a
common cause of elevated plasma homocysteine.
Olive leaf extract is traditionally used to maintain healthy blood pressure and a healthy cardiovascular system.
Maintaining adequate magnesium levels helps regulate the contraction of the heart muscle and maintain healthy
cardiovascular function. Magnesium may also be beneficial in times of stress. It is often taken in a powdered
form with the amino acid taurine, which also plays a role in maintaining cardiovascular health.
Diet and Lifestyle Suggestions
- A healthy diet and lifestyle are essential to a healthy heart. Work
with your healthcare professional to develop a plan to achieve and
maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, body weight, and blood sugar
balance, as all of these contribute to your heart health.
- When assessing your heart health, your healthcare professional will
consider your cholesterol level and blood pressure in the context of
other risk factors such as your family history, body weight, level of
physical activity and whether you are diabetic or smoke
- Adhere to your doctor’s instructions. Talk to your doctor before
taking any natural health supplements or changing your diet or
lifestyle; such changes may mean that your medicine or its dosage needs
to be monitored.
- Reduce the quantity of cholesterol and saturated and trans fats in
your diet by avoiding animal fats (meat and full-fat dairy
products) and sources of hidden fat such as pastries and pies.
- At the same time, increase the amount of fish in your diet
(but not deep-fried fish) , and eat more fruit, vegetables and whole
- A diet high in soluble fibre is highly recommended in order to
promote the excretion of cholesterol. Good sources include legumes,
oats and psyllium.
- Eating moderate amounts of foods that contain monounsaturated fats
may support the management of healthy normal cholesterol levels.
Important foods to include in your diet include nuts (especially
walnuts), seeds and olive oil.
- Stick to a diet that’s low in salt by decreasing your
consumption of processed meats (e.g. bacon, ham and salami), packaged
foods, and junk foods. Buy low salt alternatives of any tinned foods,
sauces or other packaged foods that you use, and don’t add salt to your
- Including low-fat dairy products in your diet may be beneficial for
your blood pressure, perhaps due to the calcium they contain. Aim for
three serves per day.
- Also include foods in your diet that have antioxidant and
heart-protecting properties, such as garlic, green tea and tomatoes (a
source of the antioxidant lycopene).
- Drink alcohol only in moderation, and favour antioxidant-rich red
- Quit smoking. Cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of
developing cardiovascular disease and other health problems, and can
exacerbate the negative effects of high cholesterol and blood pressure
- Regular aerobic exercise can help to maintain a healthy heart. As
little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise (for example, brisk walking)
per day may help to improve your cardiovascular health, but seek the
advice of your healthcare professional before commencing a new exercise
- Practice techniques to lower your stress levels and improve your
ability to cope under pressure. Yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, tai chi
and qi gong may all be particularly beneficial .
- Do not consume large quantities of liquorice confectionary or the
herb liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), as it may increase blood
pressure in some people.
Heart problems are serious and require professional treatment and monitoring. Do not make any changes to your
medication use, supplements, diet or lifestyle without prior consultation with your healthcare professional.