People are being encouraged to know their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers as well as they know their bank Pin code – because it could save their life.
These numbers flag up early signs of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
Forty health organisations have teamed up to urge more people to go for a routine NHS health check.
Doctors should also identify and treat at-risk patients better, they say.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes one in four deaths in England, the equivalent of someone dying every four minutes, according to Public Health England and NHS England.
Poor heart and artery health can also lead to heart failure, kidney disease, arterial disease and vascular dementia.
So, health bodies are leading efforts to improve the detection and treatment of three conditions that contribute to CVD – atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure and high cholesterol – over the next 10 years.
These conditions often have no symptoms, which is why health experts are recommending people aged over 40 take up a free NHS health check.
These can be booked at GP surgeries. They are also available at some local pharmacies and shopping centres.
PHE recommends checking your local area to find out where they are being offered.
People over 30 are being urged to take the Heart Age Test.
‘I had to give up work’
Keith Wilson, from Liverpool, had a heart attack out of the blue at 37.
“I had no symptoms and no reason to believe I was sick in any way,” he says.
His father had died of heart disease in his late 60s so he assumed it was something that happened to older people.
“I just didn’t consider I was going to get it. I was complacent,” he says.
After a second heart attack, Keith spent the next three to four years in and out of hospital receiving treatment.
He had to give up work and this really affected his family and young son.
Now 60, Keith is mindful of his health and keeps a close eye on how much he drinks and exercises. He gave up smoking straight after his heart attacks.
What is high cholesterol?
Cholesterol is carried in your blood by proteins. It can build up in the artery walls, restricting blood flow to the heart, brain and rest of the body. It can be measured with a blood test.
Total cholesterol levels should be:
5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
4mmol/L or less for those at high risk
You are at high risk if you have a family history of heart disease, heart attacks or strokes, are overweight or have high blood pressure.
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers – the systolic pressure at which the heart pumps blood around your body and the diastolic pressure which measures resistance to blood flow in the blood vessels.
high blood pressure is usually 140/90mmHg or higher
ideal blood pressure is usually between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
low blood pressure is lower than 90/60mmHg
Most cases of CVD are preventable and, alongside free health checks, PHE recommends people should:
keep to a healthy weight
drink at safe levels
The report also calls on health professionals to improve the way they manage patients at risk of CVD.
By 2029, PHE and NHS England want:
80% of people with high blood pressure detected and treated – up from 57% currently
75% of 40- to 74-year-olds having cholesterol levels measured – fewer than 50% currently take up the free health check
45% of 40- to 74-year-olds at high risk of CVD treated with statins – up from from 35% currently
These targets will help meet the commitment to prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and cases of dementia, as set out in the government’s long-term plan for the NHS.
But there is no new funding for these new targets.
‘Needlessly at risk’
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “We know our Pin numbers but not the numbers that save our lives.
“Thousands of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented by more people knowing their blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and by seeking help early.”
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said reducing health inequalities was also a priority, with people in the most deprived communities four times more likely to die prematurely from CVD than those in the most well off.
England’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Almost half of those with high blood pressure are going about their daily lives without it being detected or treated.
“Millions of people are needlessly at risk of heart attacks or strokes when it could be prevented.
“So, I want to help more people take the time out to protect their future health and get checked.”
Five million people are estimated to have undiagnosed high blood pressure in England.