World Heart Day is observed every year on Sept. 29 and this year’s theme is ‘Use Heart for Every Heart.’ The key message is that it will be an opportunity for everyone to stop and consider how best to use heart for humanity (for a world with equity in access to health care across all strata of society), use heart for nature (air pollution is an important contributor to cardiovascular disease and all of us can contribute to a healthier planet in our own way), use heart for you (avoid using harmful coping mechanisms for psychological stress).
Here, Dr. M.N. Ravi, Senior Heart Specialist and Clinical Director at Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Mysuru, explains the dangers of cardiovascular diseases and how we can prevent it.
According to WHO statistics, about 18 million people die from cardiovascular (CV) disease every year accounting to worldwide fatalities of 31 percent. One person dies every 34 seconds from CV disease while someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. About 1 in every 4 heart attacks is silent and the damage is done without the patient being aware of it. These figures will only grow in the years to come.
The incidence of coronary heart disease will increase due to the growing prevalence of poor lifestyle, bad food choices, physical inactivity, obesity, smoking, alcohol, etc. Men, women and children are at risk and 80 percent of the burden is in the low and middle income groups.
Being a heart specialist in a mid-sized hospital in Mysuru, I can say we see at least 15 – 20 patients with acute heart symptoms and about 100 patients with stable heart symptoms/ known heart disease visiting the OPD everyday. While the State and institutions generally promote technology, health education is ignored to an extent. Of what use are gadgets and spreading awareness on digital technology if we do not teach how to live ‘longer’ and ‘better.’
World Heart Day is a magnificent opportunity to reflect and take initiatives in the area. One is never too old or too young to embrace a healthy lifestyle. The earlier one begins making healthy choices, the longer he reaps the benefits. The risks for coronary heart disease include unhealthy food choices, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and alcohol, family history of early (example, under 40 years) heart disease, especially a parent or a sibling
It is possible to decrease your risk by bringing changes in daily life by adopting a healthy lifestyle such as consuming healthy food consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and lean proteins. Ensure a plate filled with coloured vegetables. Choose small servings of a variety of foods, eat at about the same time and same amount each day. Be sure to add a protein food in each meal and more high fibre foods.
Limit all kinds of alcohol since they are empty calories and pad the belly. Eliminate processed foods like potato chips, packaged foods, fast food and bakery products. Choose olive, groundnut, sunflower or soybean oil over coconut oil, ghee and butter. Avoid salt and look for food labels low in sodium. Drink plenty of water, avoid sweets and sugar rich drinks like soda, juices and energy drinks.
Maintain healthy body weight. Being overweight puts one at risk for heart disease, liver and kidney disease, breathing disorders, arthritis, dementia and cancers. Making healthy food choices in combination with an exercise programme helps in weight loss. Shun sedentary lifestyle. Get moving. Not necessarily gym. The key is just to get up and move. Walk to the neighbourhood store, take stairs at work, park your car at a distance and walk to the workplace. It is important to do at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity everyday as it helps lower CRP levels and delays development of CV diseases. Exercise also reduces body fat levels, boosts the ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) and improves insulin sensitivity. The heart, being a muscle, benefits from exercise like all other muscles.
Hypertension quite often is without symptoms, the best way to know for sure is to check. It is safer to have cholesterol screenings starting at age 35 or even younger in people who are smokers or have a family history of heart disease. Screening for diabetes also should happen around the same age.
Smoking damages the arterial wall and is a major cause for coronary heart disease. Smoking damages lungs and causes cancer, so quit smoking now. Chronic stress causes elevated levels of stress hormones and is associated with hypertension. Breathing exercises, meditation and exercise are great ways to de-stress.
Acute CV event heart attack symptoms are variable, but commonly include chest discomfort or chest pain, pain in arms, jaw, neck or back and abdomen and could be mistaken for indigestion or ‘gastric’. Dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, cold sweat are common symptoms and call for immediate attention.