Cornwall LivingIssue #63

At the heart of the issue

Robin Van Lingen, Consultant Cardiologist at Duchy Hospital, reveals the myths and facts about heart disease.

I’m too young to develop heart disease

“Sadly, lots still die prematurely from heart disease,” explains Robin. “Coronary heart disease is the single most common cause of death in people aged under 65, and that’s before we account for various rhythm problems, heart muscle issues and inherited conditions that can affect younger people.”

What can I do to lower my chances of getting heart disease?

Lifestyle modification and treatment of risk factors are important. “One in six adults smoke, for instance, and 27% are obese. Improving your lifestyle with healthy eating, weight loss and exercise will help, and cutting out alcohol and smoking can be very powerful. Timely treatment of things like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol is also important.”

I lead an active and healthy lifestyle – I won’t develop heart disease

Despite everything mentioned above, there are still things we don’t understand about heart disease, as Robin explains. “The most important is probably genetics, and if you have a history of problems like coronary artery disease, you can still develop it, even if there are no other risk factors. Valve, muscle and rhythm disorders can also be inherited, and there’s the unfortunate process simply of getting older.”

I have a heart problem – exercise will be dangerous and may make things worse

Generally, exercise is good. Patients who’ve had a heart attack or failure are now routinely offered cardiac rehabilitation. A large body of evidence supports its significant value. “I advise patients to exercise to a point where they can talk in short, full sentences, warning them not to push themselves through symptoms, such as chest pain,” says Robin. “I also advise against exercise where you can’t rest if you have to, such as sea swimming. Stop and rest, let the pain easy or catch your breath, then continue. Walking is perfect.”

Can I go on holiday with heart disease?

Most can fly and travel, even if they have heart problems. Only the sickest people have cardiac function that’s too poor to travel on long haul flights. “The questions you need to ask yourself are whether you’re adequately insured and whether you trust the health system of the country you’re visiting, in case something goes wrong. The key to health insurance is full disclosure of all your medical conditions and to shop around to get adequate coverage.”


Despite the significant problems caused by heart disease, treatments for all aspects of it continue to develop rapidly and death rates from cardio-vascular disease have dropped by three quarters since the 1960s. If you’re worried about your heart, the sooner you seek professional advice, the more likely it is to be treatable. Duchy Hospital can usually offer an appointment with a consultant cardiologist within 72 hours.