Familiar with the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’? When it comes to cardiovascular disease (CVD) – which refers to all diseases of the heart and blood vessels, including angina, coronary heart disease, stroke and heart attacks – it certainly rings true.

Around seven million UK adults has some form of CVD and it’s responsible for a quarter of all premature deaths, a large proportion of which could be prevented.

[Read more: Worried about the health of your heart? Your worries, answered]

One of the latest big public health drives is set to tackle this very thing, by spotting and tackling problems before they turn into major – and possibly deadly – heart health issues. So expect to see more posters popping up in GP surgeries, along with campaigns on Facebook and local radio, urging people to get cholesterol and blood pressure checks.


What’s it all about?

It’s all to do with the NHS RightCare Cardiovascular Disease Prevention pathway. Some aspects have already been rolled out, including the NHS Health Check programme, which helps people detect and manage their risk of heart disease (last year, 1.3 million adults aged over 40 received a check), and the Heart Age Tool, where anyone over 30 can see how their ‘heart age’ compares to their actual age (apparently, 4 in 5 people have a ‘heart age’ that’s older than their real age).

This new phase is set to see millions of adults offered more routine checks at GP surgeries across England, including pin-prick blood tests to diagnose high cholesterol. Practices are expected to identify patients who may be particularly at risk and ensure they get offered the tests – and are then, if necessary, appropriately treated too.

Surgeries are also being urged to install blood pressure machines and heart rate monitors in waiting rooms, so patients can test themselves. High-street pharmacies could be be getting involved too by offering free checks.

[Read more: Show your heart some love: 7 ways to boost your heart health]

Along with high cholesterol and blood pressure (both major risk factors for things like heart disease and stroke), there’s also an emphasis on detecting irregular heartbeats which could indicate a condition called atrial fibrillation, a form of arrhythmia linked with increased risk of stroke.


Why is early detection so important?

In short, picking things up early means things can be done to help prevent them getting worse. As well as being a leading cause of death, CVD is a big cause of disability, particularly for people who have suffered a major stroke or developed heart failure – but the underlying causes are often treatable.

For instance, medication to control high blood pressure can slash the risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack, while drugs, plus sometimes other treatments, can also be used to manage conditions like high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation.

Another part of the problem, though, is that many people who’ve already been prescribed medication don’t always take it (NHS figures suggest 40% of high blood pressure cases are poorly controlled), so there’s emphasis on tackling this too by improving awareness.

Saving the NHS money

As Jamie Waterall, Public Health England lead for cardiovascular disease prevention, states, the programme aims to “improve the public’s health and also save the NHS money”.

NHS England’s Dr Matt Kearney notes CVD is “really expensive for the NHS”, costing “£7billion a year”. It’s usually significantly cheaper to treat these conditions as a preventative step than deal with a major heart attack further down the line.

Should I get my heart health checked?

It’s a good idea for all adults to check their heart health. As Blood Pressure UK highlights, some 16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure – but a third of these have no idea they have it, because it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms.

Plus, while being overweight is associated with a higher risk of many heart conditions, even people who have a ‘healthy’ BMI and look slim can have high blood pressure.

[Read more: How old is your heart? Take the test and check how healthy your heart is]

The same is true for high cholesterol – it might be a shock to discover you’re at risk.


Prevention starts at home

This isn’t all about getting people to take tests and dishing out prescriptions, however. When it comes to prevention being better than cure, encouraging people to take responsibility for their own health can make a huge difference, whether that’s stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, being more physically active and eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Reducing excess salt intake (by not adding extra salt to meals and during cooking) is known to help dramatically reduce high blood pressure, while a balanced diet can help minimise the risk of high cholesterol, for instance. This will continue to be a big focus in public health campaigns, as well as being part of the dialogue as the programme continues to roll out.