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World Heart Day – September 29th

By Marcia Conard

Back in May 2012, world leaders decided it was time to set a goal of reducing global mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25% and they desired to reach this goal by 2025.  Sadly, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is responsible for nearly one-half of all NCD deaths and is, therefore, the world’s number one killer.  Thus “World Heart Day” was born and is celebrated every year on September 29th.  Being the number one killer in the world, it is a platform upon which those in the CVD community need to take up the fight to reduce this global disease burden.

World Heart Day was created by the World Heart Federation to bring attention to this disease so they can educate people globally on heart disease and stroke which takes the lives of 17.9 million people per year.  It is the wish of the World Heart Federation to have people embrace the causes of heart disease and stroke and practice good prevention methods in an attempt to try and eliminate 80% of the premature deaths caused by CVD.  

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The shocking truth is that the risk of developing heart failure is 1 in 5 people.

Additional shocking facts:

  • It is estimated that more than 37.7 million cases exist that are undiagnosed
  • More than 50% of CVD patients will be re-hospitalized for heart failure within 6 months of discharge
  • Cardiovascular Disease is the number 1 cause of hospitalizations
  • There are 26 million diagnosed heart failure patients worldwide

To understand what this is all about, let’s look at some definitions.  Heart failure results when the heart severely fails to pump enough blood throughout the body and may present symptoms which include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swollen limbs. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) refers to any disease of the heart, vascular disease of the brain, or disease of the blood vessel.  In other words, cardiovascular disease really covers any disorder to the body’s system that has the heart at its center.

It is pretty amazing to think that the heart is not only the strongest muscle in your body, is the size of a fist, began beating about 3 weeks after you were conceived, but if you live to the age of 70 years, it will have beaten two and a half billion times.  Wow!  Without it, you can not live.  It would seem that we should not take the heart for granted, but give it some preferential treatment!!  Why?  As amazing as our hearts are, they are also vulnerable to risk factors such as smoking, not eating a healthy diet, living with stress, physical inactivity, raised blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, being overweight or obesity, family history, and diabetes to name a few.  These become important to monitor as they are risk factors that we have some control over.  Unfortunately, there are also risk factors that cannot be modified such as age, because as you get older your risk factor for CVD goes up and your risk for stroke doubles every 10 years after the age of 55.  Some people are predisposed due to conditions they were born with.  Certainly, if heart disease runs in your family, you should make your physician aware of this so he or she can ensure you are tested regularly for indicators that could lead to the development of the disease.  Gender certainly plays a role because men are at much greater risk than premenopausal women.  However, after menopause, the risk for women becomes similar to that of a man.  The risk to the case of stroke is similar for men and women.  Ethnic origin also plays a role as people whose ancestry is African or Asian tend to be at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease than other racial groups.  Sadly, people of poorer status throughout the world are at greater risk of heart disease and stroke.  Often times this group of people may suffer more deeply from stress, social isolation, anxiety, and depression.

There are things you can do in your health maintenance program.  Get regular health check-ups.  Be checked for your blood glucose levels.  If it is high, you may have diabetes and you need to be treated for this condition.  If undiagnosed and/or untreated you are putting yourself at an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.  CVD has led to roughly 60% of all deaths for people with diabetes.  High blood pressure is often known as the “silent killer” when people do not realize they suffer from this risk factor.  Most people don’t see any signs or feel any symptoms of high blood pressure, but it is an easy thing to have checked and treated.  You will want your physician to monitor your cholesterol levels, your weight, and your body mass index (BMI).  Your physician can assist you in managing all these risk factors so you can improve your heart health.

It is not unusual for cardiac and/or breathing problems to occur while you are in your home.  As a matter of fact, this is the case over 70% of the time, and a high percentage of the time, another family member is home to assist by not only calling emergency services but also to begin CPR.  If you or your family members do not know how to administer CPR, it is certainly worth considering how to learn and explore where in your area CPR is taught.  Your local hospital would be a good place to inquire about a CPR class.  

According to the World Heart Federation, because the signs and symptoms of heart attacks can vary, it is not always apparent immediately to people what is happening to them.  If your heart attack is sudden and intense, there may be no question of what is happening.  That isn’t the case with most heart attacks making it important to learn what some of the signs of heart attacks can be.  Not all heart attacks are sudden and intense.  They may begin slowly with mild discomfort.  Here are some other signs to be aware of:

  • Chest discomfort.  Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back.  It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body.  Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

It is not unusual for women to experience heart attack symptoms differently than men.  Women may feel chest pain or discomfort, but more commonly experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.  (For an associated article on women and heart attacks, click on this link:  https://bluewaterhealthyliving.com/ladies-listen-heart/ )

Further, stroke is a definite medical emergency and if you are experiencing symptoms, get medical help immediately!  The World Heart Federation explains the signs of stroke as follows:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

These symptoms may remain steady or could come and go.  If you are experiencing any of these signs, you should call emergency services/ambulance immediately.

Since World Heart Day is about bringing awareness to and educating people about cardiovascular disease it is important to note that of the 17.9 million people who die yearly from this disease, 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

For the most part, people develop CVD due to a combination of factors (e.g. poor diet, not enough physical activity, and/or smoking) which can lead to the development of atherosclerosis.  Defined, atherosclerosis is the narrowing and thickening of arteries.  This can develop in any part of the body and go undetected for years.  When atherosclerosis happens around the heart, it is called coronary artery disease.  When it develops in the legs, it is known as peripheral arterial disease.  What causes atherosclerosis, are deposits of fatty material, cholesterol, and other substances on the walls of the blood vessels, and the deposits are known as plaques.  When these plaques rupture, they can cause a stroke or heart attack.  

To gain a better understanding, let’s define the key components.  The World Heart Federation tells us that “cholesterol” is a waxy, fat-like substance.  In the body, it is used to make several essential hormones and to build cell walls.  Cholesterol is produced by the liver from animal fats absorbed from the foods you eat.  Cholesterol is then carried through the body in the blood by particles known as lipoproteins.  You may have heard your physician talk about two different types of cholesterol – LDL (low-density lipoproteins and HDL (high-density lipoproteins).  The LDL is what carries the cholesterol around the body in the blood where the HDL extracts the cholesterol out of the blood into the liver.  The cause for concern is when the cholesterol level is too high or the two types of cholesterol become out of balance.  This is when cholesterol can clog the arteries affecting the flow of the blood.

Another key component is triglycerides.  These are fats located in the blood which are important for muscle energy.  They are transported through the blood in lipoproteins.  If your triglyceride levels increase, they cause your HDL cholesterol to decrease.  When the triglyceride level increases too high, your risk of heart disease increases.  Very high levels of triglycerides can also lead to pancreatitis.  Causes of high triglycerides include obesity, poorly controlled diabetes, consuming large amounts of alcohol, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease.

Tests your physician can run to determine if you have coronary heart disease would be a coronary angiogram.  This test uses dye running through your arteries.  When the x-rays are taken, the doctor is able to see how the blood is flowing through your heart and if any atherosclerosis can be seen.  Additionally, an electrocardiogram (EKG) can be done.  Basically, this test is recording the electrical activity of the heart measuring the rate and regularity of the heartbeats, the size, and position of the heart chambers, if any damage to the heart can be seen, and what effects any drugs or devices are having while being used to regulate the heart.  This is a non-invasive procedure.

Understanding the reasons why certain recommendations are made, may make it easier to oblige these changes in a person’s lifestyle.  For instance, doctors will recommend if you are a smoker to quit.  Why?  Simply stated, “smoking damages the lining of the blood vessels, increases fatty deposits in the arteries, increases blood clotting, adversely affects blood lipid levels, and promotes coronary artery spasm.  Nicotine accelerates the heart rate and raises blood pressure.”  (Per the World Heart Federation.)  Additionally, diet plays a huge role in whether you develop heart disease, make it worse, or keep it at bay.  By adopting a diet low in salt and fat and including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, you are helping your body to protect itself for the long term.  However, if you consume foods high in animal fats, little fresh fruits and vegetables, and high consumption of alcohol you could be setting yourself on a collision course with a heart attack and/or stroke.  The presence of estrogen in women may help a woman by raising the good cholesterol (HDL) in her body until she has gone through menopause.  However, other factors such as diabetes, or raised levels of triglycerides could completely deter the positivity of the estrogen.  Last, but not least, what you need to know about blood pressure and why it’s important to keep it in normal ranges.  When your blood moves through your arteries, it pushes against the arterial walls and the force that is measured is known as blood pressure.  You will experience an increase in blood pressure when small arteries tighten and your heart has to work harder to push your blood through the smaller space.  That constant extra pressure weakens the artery walls causing them to be more susceptible to atherosclerosis.  

For more information, please refer to the American Heart Association, Go Red for Women, and the World Heart Federation.

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