Taking care of your heart

Every 44 seconds someone in the world has a
heart attack, and half will be fatal with the individual dying within the hour
before reaching hospital.

These are shocking statistics, but you can
lower your chances of this happening to you by knowing your personal risks of
developing heart disease.

Having respect for this organ is a start,
so here’s an idea of what your heart does for you day in and day out.

The normal heart is a strong, muscular pump
a little larger than a fist. It pumps blood continuously through the
circulatory system. Each day the average heart ‘beats’ (expands and contracts)
100,000 times and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood. In a 70-year lifetime, an
average human heart beats more than 2.5 billion times. The circulating blood
brings oxygen and nutrients to all the body’s organs and tissues, including the
heart itself. It also picks up waste products from the body’s cells. These
waste products are removed as they’re filtered through the kidneys, liver and
lungs.

We do take this all for granted, and the
fact that our marvellous hearts are just pumps and a pump cannot work properly
if it is clogged. If it gets too blocked up, then it stops working altogether. Coronary
artery disease is the most common cause of death in people living with heart
disease. The coronary arteries become diseased or damaged, usually by a
build-up of fatty deposits called plaques, which affect the  blood flow to the heart. This in turn can
cause angina. A complete blockage can cause a heart attack.

To prevent being a statistic everyone needs
to know their risk factors in order to adapt their lifestyle accordingly and
get the appropriate medical care. At the Heart Health Centre, the aim is to
educate people and provide diagnostic tools. Jodie Kelley, education and
programmes coordinator at the centre says, “Everyone runs the risk of
developing heart disease, but the level of risk differs depending on several factors.
We cannot control some of these factors, but there are many we can. By taking
control of your health you can greatly lower your risk of developing heart
disease.”

So don’t shy away from that reality check.
Below are the factors that could contribute to your chances of developing heart
disease. Take action now!

What you can change or modify:

Smoking: 
Smokers’ risk of developing coronary artery disease is 2-4 times that of
non-smokers.  Nicotine constricts blood
vessels and forces your heart to work harder. 
Carbon monoxide reduces oxygen in your blood and damages the lining of
your blood vessels.

High cholesterol:  High levels of cholesterol in your blood can
cause the formation of plaques and atherosclerosis.  In particular, high levels of LDL (‘bad
cholesterol’) build up in the inner walls of the arteries that supply blood
flow to the brain and heart causing diminished blood flow.

High blood pressure:  Uncontrolled blood pressure can result in
hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the blood vessels in which
blood can flow.

Physical inactivity:  Lack of exercise is associated with increased
risk of heart disease.  Regular moderate
to vigorous activity can help to prevent this risk.  It can assist with control of cholesterol,
diabetes, blood pressure and obesity.

Obesity and overweight:  Excess weight increases the heart’s
work.  It also raises blood pressure, cholesterol
and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL (‘good cholesterol’) levels. It can
also contribute to developing diabetes.

Diabetes: 
Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing heart disease. At
least 65 per cent of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood
vessel disease.

Major risk factors you cannot change:

Increasing age:  Getting older simply increases your risk of
damaged or narrowed arteries, which contribute to coronary artery disease.

Male sex (gender):  Men have a greater risk of heart attack than
women, and they have attacks earlier in life.

Heredity (including race):  Children of parents with heart disease are
more likely to develop it themselves. 
Non-Caucasian races including Black (Afro-) and Latino have a higher
risk of heart disease.  Much of this is a
factor of higher incidences of controllable risk factors (especially obesity
and high blood pressure) in these populations.

Other contributing factors:

Alcohol: 
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and cause heart
failure. It also contributes to increased obesity.

Stress: 
Chronic stress has been linked to higher levels of the hormone cortisol
in the bloodstream which damages the heart and blood vessels. Stress may also
promote unhealthy living such as overeating, smoking, and drinking.

Take control Know your numbers

Cholesterol profile

Blood pressure

Fasting glucose

Body Mass Index

Waist circumference

Change your lifestyle

Get moving

Eat healthy food

Know and maintain a healthy weight for you

Manage stress

Eliminate all tobacco products

Limit alcohol

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