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The heart of the matter

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in New Zealand so it’s important to know the basics of heart health and when to see your doctor or Unichem Pharmacist for a Heart Health Check.

Your heart pumps blood around your body through your arteries and veins. Blood contains oxygen and nutrients to keep your body working. When there’s something wrong with your heart or blood vessels, it’s known as heart (cardiovascular) disease. Heart attacks, angina and strokes are all forms of heart disease.

The risks of getting heart disease

There are a number of factors that increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The good news is that you can change many of these to improve your health.

Risk factors that you can change:

  • Being overweight

  • Having high blood pressure

  • Having high blood glucose (sugar) levels

  • Having high cholesterol

  • Not getting enough physical activity

  • Smoking

Risk factors that you cannot change:

  • Age (35 years and over)

  • Ethnicity (Maori, Pacific and Indo-Asian people have an increased risk)

  • Gender (men have a higher risk than women)

  • Having a family history of heart attack or stroke

Many of the above risk factors show no warning symptoms. This means that most people can’t tell that their blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar are high without a check by a healthcare professional – like your Unichem Pharmacist.

The basics of blood pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard your heart has to work to pump blood around your body. It’s represented by two numbers (eg 120/80mmHg). The first number (120) represents the systolic blood pressure – the peak pressure in your blood vessels when the heart beats. The second number (80) is the diastolic blood pressure – the peak pressure in your blood vessels when the heart rests between beats.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

One in five adults has high blood pressure (hypertension) and most don’t know it. High blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood. There are usually no warning signs that your blood pressure is high and you may feel well – until damage occurs.

The only way to find out is to have your blood pressure measured. Our Pharmacists can give you a blood pressure test - no appointment needed.

There are lifestyle changes you can make to help lower blood pressure

  • Follow a healthy eating plan

  • Do 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity every day

  • Restrict your alcohol intake

  • Lower your salt (sodium) intake

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese (Unichem offers a number of weight management programmes and support)

  • Stop smoking (we can help here too)

  • Do your best to relax so you can reduce stress and sleep well

Understanding cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy material carried in the bloodstream. Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to build cell walls, and to make bile acids and sex hormones. Your liver makes most of the cholesterol in your body (75%) and takes the other 25% from the food you eat. There are two main types of cholesterol – LDL (the bad cholesterol) and HDL (the good cholesterol). If you have too much LDL cholesterol it can slowly build up in your artery walls (blood vessels), narrowing them and increasing your risk of a heart attack and stroke. The good HDL removes cholesterol from the artery walls, ready for the liver to break it down and reduce your risk.

A simple blood test, called a lipid profile, can state the levels of different types of cholesterol in your blood.

How to lower cholesterol

Following the same advice as above for lowering blood pressure is a good place to start.

You can further lower your cholesterol by:

  • Avoiding butter, deep-fried and fatty foods

  • Eating small amounts of nuts and seeds regularly

  • Having more servings of fish, dried peas and beans, soy products, oat cereals, whole grains and high fibre cereals

Assessing the risk with a Heart Health Check

A Heart Health Check (also called a cardiovascular risk assessment) will let you know your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Your Unichem Pharmacist can complete a basic risk assessment. They will:

  • Ask about risk factors such as smoking, and discuss your current exercise regimen and diet

  • Ask if any members of your family have had a heart attack or stroke

  • Measure your height, weight and waist circumference

  • Take your blood pressure

If a cholesterol test is required, your Pharmacist will refer you to your doctor.

When you should have a Heart Health Check

People without known risk factors:

  • Men from 45 years

  • Women from 55 years

Maori, Pacific or Indo-Asian people:

  • Men from 35 years

  • Women from 45 years

People with other known cardiovascular risk factors or at high risk of developing diabetes:

  • Men from 35 years

  • Women from 45 years

People with diabetes:

  • Annually from time of diagnosis


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