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Prevention - Coronary heart disease (CHD)

You can help reduce your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD).

Eat a healthy diet

A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended. This should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains.

You should limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (about one teaspoon) a day. Too much salt will increase your blood pressure.

There are 2 types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats. These will increase the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood.

Foods high in saturated fat include:

  • sausages and fatty cuts of meat
  • butter
  • lard
  • cream
  • hard cheese
  • cakes and biscuits
  • foods that contain coconut or palm oil

A balanced diet should still include unsaturated fats. These have been shown to increase levels of good cholesterol. Unsaturated fats help reduce any blockages in your arteries.

Foods high in unsaturated fat include:

  • oily fish
  • avocados
  • nuts and seeds
  • sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils

You should also try to avoid too much sugar in your diet. Sugar can increase your chances of developing diabetes. This is a proven risk factor for developing CHD.

Read more about how to eat well

Be more physically active

A healthy diet and regular exercise is the best way of maintaining a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure.

Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient. It will lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

Get advice on how to be more active

Keeping a healthy weight

Your GP or practice nurse can tell you what your ideal weight is in relation to your height and build. You can also find out what your body mass index (BMI) is by using the Safefood Ireland BMI calculator.

Give up smoking

If you smoke, giving up will reduce your risk of developing CHD.

Smoking is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). It also causes the majority of cases of coronary thrombosis in people under the age of 50.

Get help to quit smoking

Drink less alcohol

If you drink alcohol, do not drink more than the recommended limits.

Men are advised not to regularly drink more than 17 units a week.

Women are advised not to regularly drink more than 11 units a week.

Always avoid binge drinking, as this increases the risk of a heart attack.

Read our weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines

Keep your blood pressure under control

You can keep your blood pressure under control by:

  • eating a healthy diet low in saturated fat
  • exercising regularly
  • taking the prescribed medicine to lower your blood pressure

Your target blood pressure should be below 140/85mmHg or 130/80mmHg if you have diabetes. If you have high blood pressure, ask your GP to check your blood pressure regularly.

Keep your diabetes under control

You have a greater risk of developing CHD if you are diabetic. Being physically active and controlling your weight and blood pressure will help manage your blood sugar level.

If you're diabetic, your target blood pressure level should be below 130/80mmHg.

Take any prescribed medicine

If you have CHD, you may be prescribed medicine to help relieve your symptoms. Medicine will also help stop further problems from developing.

You may not have CHD but have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a history of family heart disease. Your GP may prescribe medicine to prevent you developing heart-related problems.

If you're prescribed medicine, it's important you take it and follow the correct dosage. Do not stop taking your medicine without consulting your doctor first. Stopping your medicine is likely to make your symptoms worse and put your health at risk.

The importance of regular exercise

People who do not exercise are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who exercise regularly.

The heart is a muscle and, like any other muscle, benefits from exercise. A strong heart can pump more blood around your body with less effort.

Any aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming and dancing, makes your heart work harder and keeps it healthy.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 7 March 2021
Next review due: 7 March 2024