How to care for your heart health

Did you know 1 in 6 Australians live with cardiovascular disease? Let’s explore the most common heart conditions, their signs and symptoms, who’s at risk, and how you can look after your heart health to help prevent heart problems later in life.

7 common heart conditions

Some of the most common heart conditions seen in Australian adults include:

Coronary artery disease (CAD)

This condition occurs when the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart become narrowed or blocked due to the build-up of plaque, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.

Hypertension (high blood pressure)

High blood pressure can strain the heart and blood vessels over time, increasing your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when your heart muscle becomes weakened or stiffened, leading to reduced pumping ability and inadequate blood flow to meet your body’s needs.


Arrhythmias are irregular heart rhythms that can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly. Common types include atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Valvular heart disease

This includes conditions such as aortic stenosis, mitral regurgitation, and mitral valve prolapse, where your heart valves do not function properly, leading to problems with blood flow.


Cardiomyopathy refers to diseases of the heart muscle that can weaken your heart and impair its ability to pump blood effectively.

Congenital heart defects

These are structural abnormalities present at birth that affect your heart’s structure and function, such as holes in the heart or abnormal heart valves.

Signs and symptoms of heart conditions

While symptoms vary, the most common signs of a heart problem can include:

Chest pain or discomfort

This is one of the most common symptoms of heart conditions. It may feel like pressure, tightness, squeezing, or heaviness in your chest which might also radiate to your arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, or back.

Shortness of breath

Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, especially during physical activity or while lying down, can be a sign of heart failure or other heart conditions.

Dizziness, light-headedness, or fatigue

Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or fainting can be caused by decreased blood flow to the brain when the heart is unable to pump effectively. Feeling unusually tired or exhausted can also be a symptom of a heart condition.


Sensations of irregular, fast, or pounding heartbeats can occur with heart rhythm disturbances.


Swelling in your legs, ankles, feet, or abdomen can occur due to fluid retention and may be a sign of heart failure.

Nausea or indigestion

Some people may experience nausea, abdominal discomfort, or indigestion-like symptoms.

Cold sweats

Cold sweats, particularly when accompanied by other symptoms, can be a sign of a heart attack.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any concerning symptoms, especially if they are severe or persistent. Prompt evaluation and treatment can prevent complications and improve outcomes.

Who is at risk of developing a heart condition?

The following factors may increase your risk of developing a heart condition:

  • Older age
  • Male
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity or unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Stress
  • Sleep apnoea

Your GP can assist you with identifying and reducing your risk factors.

How to care for your heart health

Adopting a healthy lifestyle and managing modifiable risk factors can help reduce your risk of developing a heart condition. Here are some strategies you can implement to reduce your personal risk:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, aiming for a body mass index (BMI) within the normal range (18.5 to 24.9).
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (such as fish and poultry), and healthy fats (such as olive oil and nuts) while limiting intake of saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques.
  • Monitor your blood pressure.
  • Get regular cholesterol screenings.
  • Manage your diabetes.
  • Limit daily alcohol intake to no more than one drink for women and two drinks for men.
  • Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.

Regular check-ups with your GP are essential for early detection and long-term management of heart conditions. For tailored medical advice and education on how to improve your heart health, book an appointment with your doctor.

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