Preventing Heart Disease

World Health Organisation estimates that more than 17.5 million people died of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack or stroke every year. The most important fact is that 80% of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable. Dr. George Thayil, Senior Cardiologist at Lourdes Hospital, Ernakulam explains how we can prevent heart attacks by following a healthy lifestyle.

Heart diseases are the number one cause of death globally; more people die annually from heart disease than from any other cause. A total of 17.5 million people die from heart disease every year.  Out of the 16 million deaths under the age of 70 due to non-communicable diseases, 82% are in low-income and middle-income countries.

File photo dated 28/07/10 of an overweight man eating fast food as almost two out of three severely obese children under the age of 12 have at least one risk factor for heart disease such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar, researchers have said. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday July 24, 2012. The study, published online in Archives Of Disease In Childhood, examined 255 severely obese children aged between two and 18. See PA story HEALTH Obesity. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

An overweight man eating fast food as almost two out of three severely obese children under the age of 12 have at least one risk factor for heart disease such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar, researchers have said. 

Over 80% of the deaths are attributable to cardiovascular disease in low-income and middle-income countries, which includes heart disease and stroke.  In recent years, the number has almost doubled, and, in low-income and middle-income countries, rates have exceeded those of high-income counties.

Disability adjusted life years (DALYs) is a way to measure the burden of a specific disease on a population.  Heart disease has caused 1,51,377 million DALYs. Of those years lost, 62,587 million are because of heart disease and 46,591 are because of stroke.

Heart attacks are usually acute events and are mainly caused by a blockage that prevents blood from flowing to heart. The most common reason for this is a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. The cause of heart attack is usually the presence of a combination of risk factors, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet and obesity, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol.

The heart is responsible for circulating blood throughout the body.  It is about the size of your clenched fist and sits in the chest cavity between your lungs.  Its walls are made up of muscle that can squeeze or pump blood out every time the heart ‘beats ‘ or contracts.  Fresh, oxygen-rich air is brought into the lungs every time you take a breath.  The lungs are responsible for delivering oxygen to the blood, and the heart circulates the blood through these lungs and out to the different parts of the body.

The heart is divided into four chambers or ‘rooms’.  You can compare it to a duplex apartment that is made up of a right and a left unit, separated from each other by a partition wall known as septum.  Each ‘duplex’ is subdivided into an upper and lower chamber.

The upper chamber is known as atrium while the lower chamber is referred to as the ventricle.  The right atrium sits on top of the right ventricle on the right side of the heart while the left atrium sits on the top of left ventricle on left side.

The right side of the heart is responsible for pumping of blood to the lungs, where the blood cells pick up fresh oxygen.  This oxygenated blood is then returned to the left side of the heart.  From here, the oxygenated blood is pumped out to the rest of the body, supplying the fuel that body cells need to function.  The cells of the body remove oxygen from the blood, and the oxygen-poor blood is returned to the right atrium where the journey began.  This round trip is known as the circulation of blood.

There are many risk factors for the heart disease.  You can control some of the risk factors, but not others.

  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Stress
  • Alcohol

The risk factors you cannot control are age, gender, and family hereditary history of heart disease. Many people have at least one risk factor.  Your risk of heart attack increases with the number of risk factors you have and their severity.  Many risk factors start during childhood.  This is even more common now because many children are overweight and do not get enough physical activity.

Following a healthy lifestyle can help you and your children prevent or control many risk factors. Because many lifestyle habits began during childhood, parents and families should encourage their children to make heart healthy choices. For example, you and your children can lower your risk if you maintain a healthy weight, follow a healthy diet, do physical activity regularly and do not smoke.

If you already have heart disease, lifestyle changes can help you control your risk factors. This may prevent heart disease from worsening.  Even if you are in your seventies or eighties, a healthy lifestyle can lower your risk of dying from heart disease. If lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctors may recommend other treatments to help control your risk factors.

How likely you are to develop a heart attack is largely determined by how many risk factors you have for heart disease.

The bad news is that there are several risk factors for heart disease, and most of them are common among all population. The good news is that most of the risk factors are things we have the ability to control.

So, we ourselves have a lot to say about how likely we are to have a heart attack. The risk factors for heart attack can be divided into two groups – those which we have no control over, and those which we can control.

(Read the full article in the February Issue of Safety Messenger Magazine 2016)

Author: SubEditor

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