Word on Health

Word on Circulatory Health

Our grateful thanks to the Circulation Foundation for their contribution to our on-air report which you can hear again at the bottom of this page. The support information below is courtesy of  NHS Choices and the Circulation Foundation

The circulatory system is made up of vessels and muscles that help and control the flow of the blood around the body. This process is called circulation. The main parts of the system are the heart, arteries, capillaries and veins. The circulatory system does a very important job in your body.  It carries oxygen and essential nutrients to all cells around the body in arteries and carries the waste products and carbon dioxide in veins. The average human body contains over 60,000 miles of blood vessels.

What is an artery?  Arteries are the pipes that carry blood, rich with oxygen and nutrients, away from the heart. As the blood travels round the arteries, it branches off to be able to deliver oxygen and nutrients to specific cells. The blood in your arteries is bright red and is under high pressure as the heart pumps it around the body.

What is a vein? Veins are the pipes that carry deoxygenated blood and waste products around the body. As cells use the oxygen and nutrients delivered by the arteries they create waste products, such as carbon dioxide. The veins then pick up this waste and deliver it around the body for it to be disposed of and then deliver the deoxygenated blood back to the heart. The blood in your veins is under considerably less pressure than in your arteries as it is moving upward back to your heart.  Veins have valves in them to stop the blood flowing backwards.

What is plaque?   Plaque is a build of fat, calcium, cholesterol and other waste products found in your blood.  It is very sticky and sticks to the walls of your arteries.  The build up of plaque (atherosclerosis)  takes many years and hardens as it ages.  It narrows your blood vessels and makes it harder for the oxygenated blood to flow around your body and deliver nutrients to your organs.  

Vascular disease is the collective term for diseases of the veins and arteries. Every part of the body to which blood flows can be affected by it. It’s as common as cancer and heart disease and accounts for 40% of deaths in the UK, many of which are preventable.

For information on specific vascular diseases click here to access the Circulation Foundation website.

NHS Choices produces a range of specific pages including;

NHS Choices: atherosclerosis

NHS Choices: varicose veins

NHS Choices: chilblains

NHS Choices: varicose eczema

NHS Choices: deep vein thrombosis

We do not fully understand vascular disease, but once it occurs it cannot be reversed. The risk factors include

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diet and weight
  • Family history - If you have a history of vascular disease in your family, you may want to discuss this with your healthcare practitioner.

Managing Risk Factors

Smoking has been directly related to accelerating the process of furring up of your arteries and reducing the amount of blood flow.  The medical advice is to stop smoking, but no one else is able to do this for you and you need to decide yourself if you want to do it. There is plenty of assistance available to stop smoking, through your GP practice, your local pharmacy or the hospital. You can find local quit smoking services and other useful tools online (including an iPhone app and cost calculator) on the NHS Choices website.

Diabetes: If you are not known to be diabetic, your fasting blood sugar (glucose) level should be checked to ensure there is no underlying problem that is not being treated.

It can be possible to have a glucose level that is not high enough to be diabetic, but is not low enough to be normal. This is known as glucose intolerance. In this instance it is sensible to control the sugar level in your diet and have a regular check of your blood to ensure the blood glucose level is not rising.

If you are diabetic this increases your chances of having a high blood glucose level on a regular basis and this accelerates the process of atherosclerosis. Diabetics also tend to develop atherosclerosis in a different pattern from those who are not diabetic, which can make it difficult to treat when the disease becomes severe. Therefore it is very important for diabetics to have a good control of their blood sugar levels and to take especially good care of their feet. Click here to access more infomation from NHS Choices on diabetes.

High blood pressure (Hypertension) is known to increase the process of atherosclerosis, and your blood pressure should be checked to ensure it is reaching a target of 140 over 85, however these readings can change depending on your age. If you are already known to have high blood pressure, your blood pressure should be checked on a regular basis to make sure your tablets are keeping your blood pressure to the amount specified by your healthcare professional. Click here to read more on high blood pressure on the NHS Choices website.

Cholesterol is the fat that is in your blood, with a tenth coming from the food you eat and the rest made by your liver. Cholesterol is known to increase the process of atherosclerosis. With peripheral arterial disease your target cholesterol level should be lower than normal, with the total cholesterol less than 4 mmol/L and LDL cholesterol less than 2 mmol/L (this is lower than the NHS recommendations of 5mmol/L total blood cholesterol and 3 mmol/L of LDL cholesterol). It is unusual to have a natural cholesterol level below these targets and most individuals require medication to work on the liver to produce less cholesterol Click here to read more about cholesterol on the NHS Choices website.

Weight a healthy weight or body mass index helps you to keep all your risk factors under control. Reducing your weight reduces your risk of becoming diabetic, reduces your blood pressure and reduces your cholesterol level. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9; use the NHS Choices BMI calculator to work out your BMI and read advice about losing weightFor infomation on a healthy diet (avoid foods that are high in saturated fats, salt or sugar, and aim to eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day) click here.

Exercise regularly – aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and strength exercises on at least 2 days a week. Click here for exercise tips from NHS Choices.

Moderate your alcohol consumption – men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 alcohol units a week; get tips on cutting down on alcohol from NHS Choices.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.