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Prevention - Coronary heart disease (CHD)

It is not always possible to prevent coronary heart disease (CHD).

But there are ways you can reduce your risk:

Eat healthily

Try to have a low-fat, high-fibre diet. Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains.

Limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g (about 1 teaspoon) a day. Too much salt increases your blood pressure.

There are 2 types of fat:

  • saturated
  • unsaturated

Avoid food containing saturated fats. These 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

Include unsaturated fats in your diet. These can 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

Try to avoid eating too much sugar. Sugar can increase your chances of developing diabetes. This is a proven risk factor for developing CHD.

How to eat well

Be more physically active

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

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

The importance of being active

People who are not physically active are twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who are active.

The heart is a muscle and 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.

Keeping active

Keep to 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 use a calculator to find out your body mass index (BMI).

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 is also the cause of most coronary thromboses (clots) in people under 50.

Get help to quit smoking

Drink less alcohol

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

The recommended weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines are less than:

  • 11 standard drinks for women
  • 17 standard drinks for men

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

Weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines

Manage your blood pressure

You can keep your blood pressure under control by:

  • having a healthy diet low in saturated fat
  • being active
  • taking prescribed medicine to lower your blood pressure

Your 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.

Manage your diabetes

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

If you have diabetes, your blood pressure level should be below 130/80mmHg.

Managing diabetes

Take medicine if prescribed

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

If you do not have CHD but have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a history of family heart disease, your doctor may prescribe medicine.

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: 6 December 2023
Next review due: 6 December 2026