Matters of the heart

Matters of the heart

On this World Heart Day on September 29, pledge to keep your heart healthy

Heart disease is one of the major causes of death and disability around the world

World Heart Day is on September 29 and the theme for this year is all about making a promise to live a more heart-healthy life. Heart disease is perhaps the most formidable and a silent killer, often presenting with no marked symptoms. It is one of the major causes of death and disability around the world, killing 17.5 million people a year. About 2 lakh heart surgeries are performed every year in India alone, and if this trend continues, by 2020, the burden of heart diseases in the country will surpass that of any other. This situation is further exacerbated by a lack of awareness about the prevention and management of this condition.

Heart conditions emerge when plaque, composed of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood builds up inside the coronary arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscles. This plaque restricts blood flow to the heart’s chambers, leading to heart attack, sudden cardiac death and stroke. The symptoms of heart diseases can vary in both men and women. However, some common ones include chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting. While there are many risk factors for heart diseases, a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating surpass all others. A number of lifestyle choices can put people at an increased risk of this condition, including diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake.

Recommended tests

There are some tests which can help detect the associated risk factors at an early stage and aid in the timely management of heart diseases. These are tests that every person must undergo, especially when they are over 30 years of age. These tests are also imperative for those with high BP, borderline high BP, or those with a family history of this condition.

Liver tests: Lipid profile and liver function test

X-ray: Chest PA and ECG

Glucose: Fasting,postprandial glucose, and complete blood count with ESR for blood sugar

Creatinine, complete urine analysis, and blood urea nitrogen for the kidneys.

Here are some suggestions to help you keep your heart healthy:

Make some lifestyle changes

The best way to avoid the risk of acquiring any kind of heart disease is to make certain lifestyle changes. In exceptional cases, the doctor can prescribe medications to reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke. These work by lowering blood pressure or preventing blood clotting. For certain types of heart conditions, medical procedures such as angioplasty may be needed.

Quit smoking & drinking

Quitting tobacco in any form can accrue benefits to the heart right from day one. While the heart rate slows down and oxygen levels in the blood rise within a day of making this choice, the risk of developing coronary heart disease returns to a level similar to that of a non-smoker in a span of a few years from the time of quitting any form of tobacco. Also, limit the consumption of alcohol. The recommended level is not more than one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men.

Maintain a healthy blood pressure

Hypertension or high blood pressure can affect the delicate inner lining of blood vessels and put you at an increased risk of heart diseases. Keep a check on your blood pressure, particularly if you have a family history of this condition. Regulate the amount of salt in your diet as an increase in salt consumption can cause a spike in blood pressure levels.

Consume heart-healthy fats

Unsaturated fats, such as those rich in MUFA and PUFA (especially omega-3 PUFA), have a protective effect on the heart and are known as heart-healthy fats. There is no single oil that has the right mix of fatty acids. Therefore, it is important to use a blend of cooking oils to ensure a healthy heart.

Eat healthy 

Indian diet is rich in fats, mostly unhealthy. We tend to consume a lot of fried food and savouries. All this, coupled with a lack of physical activity, can play havoc with your body and make you obese, leading to heart problems over time. Those who carry a bulk of their body fat around the stomach are at a greater risk. It is important to keep a check on your weight and eat healthy. Consume whole-grain foods as they are rich in fibre and complex carbohydrates, and take longer to digest, leaving you feeling full for a longer time. Including plenty of fruits and vegetables in the diet will not only add flavour and variety, but also provide the body with the required nutrients.

Get moving

Lack of exercise is a major cause of weight gain. Stay active by doing a moderate workout for about 30 minutes every day as it will increase circulation and benefit the heart.

Reduce stress

Long-term stress can lead to a heart attack or sudden death. Get adequate sleep every day and opt for techniques such as yoga and meditation to combat stress. This will also help fight anxiety and excitement, all of which can stress the heart.

Heart diseases do not show any obvious signs and symptoms often. Getting checked in a timely manner and taking preventive action in the form of lifestyle changes can help keep heart diseases at bay.

(The author is head of the clinical advisory board,healthi)

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