Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke
How to Keep Healthy

Prevention is better than a cure! So it makes much more sense to make healthy choices that reduce your chances of developing chest, heart or stroke conditions. And if you are already living with a chest, heart or stroke condition, then making healthy choices will help prevent a reoccurrence and will benefit you in your every day life.


Please note that the information on this website is not a substitute for the advice your doctors or other health care professionals may give you based on their knowledge of your condition.

What are the risk factors?

A “risk factor” is something that increases your chance of getting a disease. There are risk factors that you have no control over but there are others that are within our control. Risk factors are cumulative, i.e they add up and the more risk factors you have, the more chance you have of getting a disease. So you need to do as much as you can to minimise the ones you can control, especially if you recognise yourself in the list of ones you can’t control.


The risk factors for cardiovascular disease that you can’t control are:

Family history: if your siblings or parents had a heart attack or stroke at an early age (under 55 for men or under 65 for women), your own chances will be higher.

Age: the risk of heart attack or stroke increases with age.

Gender: the risk of heart attack or stroke increases with age for both men and women.

Ethnic origin: people with an Afro–Caribbean or South–east Asian background have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Medical history: If you have already had a stroke or mini–stroke (TIA), a heart attack or angina you have a greater chance of having another stroke or heart attack.

Genes: There are genetic conditions which makes your blood more likely to clot, or affect your blood pressure or cholesterol levels.


If any of these apply to you, then you need to take extra care about the risk factors you can control. It is also important that you speak to your GP and get a health check.


There are also risk factors over which you have more control. These are….whether or not you smoke, your weight, the amount of physical activity you do, your diet, how much alcohol you drink, stress and how much sleep you get.  These have an impact on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and your lung function and can cause atrial fibrillation which then puts you at risk of heart disease, stroke or respiratory illness. 

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a type of irregular heartbeat.

If you have AF, your heart will not have a regular beat and may be abnormally fast. The heart may not empty its chambers of blood at each beat, so a clot could form in the blood left behind, which can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation makes your risk of a stroke five times higher.

Test for AF during a NICHS Well Check Plus

Sometimes people with AF have no symptoms and their condition is only detectable during a medical examination or by having a health check with Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS).

Others may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling faint at times
  • Being breathless
  • Palpitations or fluttering or “thumping” in the chest

If you think you have AF or it has been detected when having a Well Check Plus with NICHS you should book an appointment with your GP immediately.


Atrial fibrillation is the most common abnormal heart rhythm. But with the right treatment plan for AF, you can live a long and healthy life. Working with your doctor to reduce stroke risk is the most important thing you can do to make sure you have a good prognosis with atrial fibrillation. In addition to taking your medication, you should aim to have a healthy lifestyle which you should discuss with your doctor.

Blood Pressure


Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. When your blood pressure is taken, two measurements are recorded during a single heartbeat:

• Systolic pressure (the top number): the pressure when your heart pumps blood through arteries and around your body.

• Diastolic pressure (the bottom number): the pressure when your heart is resting.



One reading alone cannot diagnose high blood pressure. It must be repeated over a period of time. Generally, the lower your blood pressure, the healthier you are.

As a guide, the ideal blood pressure for a young healthy adult is 120/80 or lower.


If your blood pressure is consistently higher than 140/90mmHg then you may have high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension.


If you suffer from diabetes, your blood pressure needs to be under 130/80mmHg. 

People with a reading of around 90/60 or lower, however, are generally considered to have low blood pressure. For some, there may be an underlying cause that could need treatment.

High blood pressure is one of the most preventable causes of heart disease and stroke in the UK. Over time it can cause your heart to become abnormally large and beat less effectively. High blood pressure and the narrowing of the arteries can cause heart attacks. Blood moving round the body at a higher pressure can cause small tears and damage to the insides of the blood vessels. This can result in clots that may travel to the heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke. Failure to detect and control high blood pressure is the number one cause of avoidable strokes. It is a BIG risk factor for stroke. There are no physical warning signs so get it checked. A healthy person should request to have his or her blood pressure first checked from the age of 20. If normal it should be taken every five years. If ever found to be abnormal it should be checked once a year from then on.

What can I do to reduce my blood pressure?

These actions may help reduce your blood pressure:

– Maintain a healthy weight

– Exercise regularly

– Reduce salt

– Stop smoking

– Reduce alcohol

– Don’t binge drink

– Reduce stress

Download our How to Reduce High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet.


colesterolCholesterol is a fatty substance essential to normal bodily functions, but too much of it can clog your arteries.

High cholesterol can increase the risk of narrowing of your arteries. This is because cholesterol can build up in the artery wall, restricting the flow of blood to your heart, brain and the rest of your body. This can lead to angina, heart attack, stroke and TIA, also known as mini–stroke.


There are two types of cholesterol:

·         “Good” cholesterol (HDL) takes fat away from your artery walls.

·         “Bad” cholesterol (LDL) sticks to your artery walls and causes a fatty build up.

Triglycerides are another type of harmful fat that can harden and narrow the arteries.


When your cholesterol is measured, you may told a total figure or individual ones. Total cholesterol is only an indication. You need to understand the breakdown into good and bad types.

Total cholesterol should be below 5.0mmol/L

HDL should be above 1.0 mmol/L

LDL should be below 3.0 mmol/L

Triglycerides should be below 1.5 mmol/L

Download our How to Reduce Cholesterol Fact Sheet.