Let’s have a heart to heart talk with Maggie Wills this week.
As community education coordinator with Hospice Care of Tri County, she is well-qualified and experienced to shine a spotlight in a discussion of heart identification, ways to minimize heart risk factors, as well as ways to prevent its progression. Now’s the time to learn the facts.
About the heart If you’re a kid, your heart is about the same size as your fist, and if you’re an adult, it is about the same size as two fists. Your heart is a double-sided muscular pump. The right side pumps blood into the lungs, where it is oxygenated. The left side receives this oxygenated blood and pumps it around the rest of the body where the oxygen and other nutrients are used by the cells of the body’s tissues and organs. The deoxygenated blood then travels back through the veins and into the right side of the heart again.
The heart beats approximately 100,000 times a day, 35 million times a year, and more than 2.5 billion times in a lifetime.
If you give a tennis ball a good hard squeeze, you are using about the same amount of force your heart does too pump blood to the body. Even when resting, the muscles are working hard. Your heart works twice as hard as the leg muscles of a person sprinting.
Arteries The aorta, the largest artery in the body, is almost the diameter of a garden hose. Capillaries, on the other hand, are so small that it takes 10 of them to equal the thickness of a human hair. The body has six quarts of blood pumping about one million barrels of blood during an average lifetime—enough to fill more than three super tankers.
• A broad term used to describe a range of diseases that affect your heart or blood vessels.
• The various diseases that fall under the umbrella of cardiovascular disease include. But are not limited to: coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke.
• The term “cardiovascular disease” is often used interchangeably with heart disease because both terms refer to diseases of the heart or arteries. By whatever name you call it—cardiovascular disease or heart disease—it’s clear that diseases of the heart and blood vessels are serious problems.
Coronary artery disease is caused by a narrowing or blocking of the blood vessels that go to your heart. It’s the most common form of heart disease. Your blood carries oxygen and other needed materials to your heart. Blood vessels to your heart can become partially or totally blocked by fatty deposits.
Cardiovascular disease is the no. one worldwide killer of men and women, including in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 40 percent of all the deaths in the United States, which is more than all forms of cancer combined.
Heart disease risk factors can be controlled:
• Quit smoking. Smokers have more than twice the risk for heart attack as nonsmokers and are much more likely to die if they suffer a heart attack. If you smoke, work to quit.
• Improve cholesterol levels. The risk for heart disease increases as your total amount of cholesterol increases. A total cholesterol level over 200, a HDL, or “good” cholesterol level under 40, or a LDL, or “bad” cholesterol level over 160 indicates an increased risk for heart disease. Of course, interpretation of cholesterol values must be individualized, taking into account all of your risk factors for heart disease. A diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat will lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease.
• Control high blood pressure: Blood pressure (BP) is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. Arteries are what carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Over 50 million people in the U.S. have hypertension, or high blood pressure, making it the most common heart disease risk factor. One in four adults has systolic blood pressure (the upper number) over 140, and/or diastolic blood pressure over 90, which is the definition of hypertension. Like cholesterol, blood pressure interpretation should be individualized, taking into account your entire risk profile. If treatment is warranted, today’s blood pressure medications are effective, safe and easy to take.
• Get active. Many of us lead sedentary live, exercising infrequently or not at all. People who don’t exercise have higher rates of death and heart disease compared to people who perform even mild to moderate amounts of physical activity. Even, leisure-time activities like gardening or walking can lower your risk of heart disease.
• Eat right. Eat a heart-healthy diet low in fat and cholesterol. Try to increase the amounts of vitamins you eat, especially antioxidants, which have been proven to lower your risk for heart disease. EAT—Fruits, vegetables, a diet low in sodium/salt, a diet low in fat and high in fiber, stay hydrated. Learn to understand the labels on packaged food to help you make better choices.
• Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts significant strain on your heart and worsens several other heart disease risk factors such as diabetes. Researchers now know that obesity itself increases heart disease risk. By eating right and exercising, you can lose weight and reduce your risk of heart disease.
• Moderate alcohol consumption. Moderate alcohol consumption helps protect against heart disease by raising HDL (good) cholesterol and reducing plaque accumulations in your arteries. On the other hand, drinking more than three drinks a day has a direct toxic effect on the heart.
• Manage stress and anger. Poorly controlled stress and anger can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Use stress and anger management techniques to lower your risk. Consciously add relaxation to your daily routine.
• Control your diabetes. This applies to borderline diabetics as well. If not properly controlled, diabetes can lead to significant heart damage including heart attacks and death. Work with your health care professional to find the most appropriate treatment.
• Teamwork - Your doctor, nurse and pharmacist want you to get the information you need to care for your health. It is their job to help you understand ways to take care of your health. It is your job to tell them when you do not understand or have other reasons that keep you from following their advice.
• Get regular health screenings. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your cardiovascular system, including your heart. But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you whether you need to take action. Regular blood pressure screenings start in childhood. Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. You may need more frequent checks if your numbers aren’t optimal or if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Adults should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years. You may need more frequent testing if your numbers aren’t optimal or if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Some children may need their blood cholesterol tested if they have a strong family history of heart disease.”
Resources: www.americanheart.org, www.mayoclinic.com, www.pbs.org, www.webmd.com.