Health & Wellness

The Heart of the Matter

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by Jeremy Deacon

 The Bermuda Heart Foundation’s website has a blunt message – in typeface you cannot miss, it says, ‘Heart Disease is Bermuda’s #1 killer’. Yet how many of us can honestly say that 1. We knew that, and 2. We knew that and are actively doing something about it? 

 The answer to #1 is probably the majority of people. The answer to #2 is probably the minority of people, yet the implications are enormous, and the costs are huge. 

Heart disease covers a range of conditions and includes blood vessel disease, such as coronary artery disease, defects people were born with, heart rhythm problems and disease of the heart muscle. 

The Mayo Clinic (www. mayoclinic.org) says that coronary artery disease symptoms may be different for men and women with men more likely to have chest pain. Women, according to the Mayo Clinic, are more likely to have other signs and symptoms along with chest discomfort, such as shortness of breath, nausea, and extreme fatigue. 

Signs and symptoms can include chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort; shortness of breath; pain, numbness, weakness or coldness in your legs or arms if the blood vessels in those parts of your body are narrowed, and pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back. 

It is possible that people are not diagnosed with coronary artery disease until they suffer from a heart attack, angina, stroke, or heart failure. The Mayo Clinic says, therefore, that it is important to watch for cardiovascular symptoms and discuss concerns with a doctor as cardiovascular disease can sometimes be found early with regular evaluations. 

If detected early, heart disease is easier to treat, so regular check-ups with a doctor are vital – especially if your family has a history of heart disease. 

Causes of heart disease depend on the type of heart disease a person has but among the most common causes is a build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries. This is caused by things like unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, being overweight and smoking. 

Other causes are having diabetes (which is very common in Bermuda), drug abuse, too much caffeine or alcohol, smoking, stress, and high blood pressure. 

 The risk factors for developing heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, include: 

AGE. Growing older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries and a weakened or thickened heart muscle. 

SEX. Men are generally at greater risk of heart disease. The risk for women increases after menopause. 

FAMILY HISTORY. A family history of heart disease increases your risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a parent developed it at an early age (before age 55 for a male relative, such as your brother or father, and 65 for a female relative, such as your mother or sister). 

SMOKING. Nicotine tightens your blood vessels, and carbon monoxide can damage their inner lining, making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. Heart attacks are more common in smokers than in non-smokers. 

POOR DIET. A diet that’s high in fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease. 

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the vessels through which blood flows. 

HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL LEVELS. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of plaque formation and atherosclerosis. 

DIABETES. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease. Both conditions share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure. 

OBESITY. Excess weight typically worsens other heart disease risk factors. 

PHYSICAL INACTIVITY. Lack of exercise also is associated with many forms of heart disease and some of its other risk factors as well. 

STRESS. Unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease. 

POOR DENTAL HEALTH. It’s important to brush and floss your teeth and gums often and have regular dental check-ups. If your teeth and gums aren’t healthy, germs can enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart, causing endocarditis. 

So, what can people do to develop a healthy heart? This article is drawn from a number of different websites, such as www.webmd.com, which all offer practical advice such as eating healthily, regular exercise, quitting smoking and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure. These are all things that people can work on every day. 

In terms of eating, food should be naturally low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar and rich in wholegrains, fibre, antioxidants, and unsaturated fats. 

Follow the five a day rule and eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Try and eat wholegrain cereals which include more natural grain with more nutrients like dietary fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, and healthy fats. 

The ‘best’ fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) fats which can be found in things like fish, nuts and avocados. 

Eating too much saturated and trans-fat can elevate blood cholesterol levels. Saturated and trans fats can be found in foods like pizza, cakes, biscuits, pastries, and deep-fried foods. 

Also, eating too much salt is bad for your heart. The sodium in salt can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease so try using different spices as a substitute. 

Exercise more – don’t take the office lift, take the stairs. Join the gym, take up a sport, run with your friends, go for walks with the dog. Don’t be that typical couch potato! 

Doing regular physical activity reduces your risk of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Keeping active helps to control common heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being overweight. Regular physical activity can also help strengthen your bones and muscles. It can help you feel more energetic, happier, and relaxed. 

Give up smoking! It’s hard but as the saying goes, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again’. 

Lastly, if you are not sure and want more help or advice visit your doctor. Do not sit in silence, ask for help. 

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