Heart Disease

We are all aware that heart disease and its related complications is one of the most common causes of disability and death in men and women worldwide. Yet how many of us really know our level of risk for developing heart disease, for sustaining a heart attack, or developing serious heart related problems. If you haven’t still tried figuring out your risk quotient for heart disease it’s never too late to get started.

Spare a few seconds and answer these simple questions that will help you take a glance at your level of risk.

  • Are you overweight?
  • Are you not able to maintain a regular exercise routine?
  • Are you suffering from high blood pressure, high blood sugar and increased fat levels in the blood?
  • Are you a smoker/ alcoholic?
  • Do you maintain a healthy dietary plan?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of them, then you definitely are a potential candidate for heart disease. It’s about time for a complete evaluation with your physician to identify risk factors and implement preventive and corrective measures for a healthy heart.

Risk factors for heart disease

There are two types of risk factors. The risk factors which can be controlled by your efforts, are called preventable risk factors. These include obesity, poor and unhealthy eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure/ blood sugar/ lipid levels, excessive use of alcohol / caffeine, smoking and stress/ depression.

There are some factors, which we cannot control. These include age, family history of heart, disease, male sex, women after menopause, and heart defects present at birth.

Age and heart disease

If you are a man over 45 years of age or a woman over 55 years of age/ or have attained menopause, then you are at a greater risk for heart disease. The risk is also seen to increase with advancing age in both men and women. Age related damage and narrowing of blood vessels, and weakening/ thickening of heart muscle contribute to heart disease.

Heart disease runs in the family

History of heart attack, paralysis or serious heart problems in family members and close relatives places you at a higher risk of developing heart disease. This risk increases further if the relatives have a history of the disease before the age of 55 for men and 65 for women.

Being aware of your family history can be useful information for your physician to assess your risk and recommend timely screening tests, preventive measures and corrective treatments.

Your cholesterol levels and heart disease

Your blood cholesterol levels play an important role in determining your chances of getting heart disease. Cholesterol is a fat like, waxy substance that is present in all parts of the body and is needed by the body for proper functioning.

If excess of this fat (particularly LDL and triglycerides – also termed as bad cholesterol) is present in your body it can stick to the inside walls of the blood vessels. This causes thickening, hardening and narrowing of the lumen of the blood vessels causing a decrease in blood and oxygen supply needed for proper functioning of the heart.

In addition, if you have low levels of the good cholesterol or HDL necessary for removal of these deposits from the inside of your blood vessels, your chances of heart disease are increased.

High blood pressure and heart disease

If your blood pressure levels are elevated for prolonged periods, they make the walls of the blood vessels thick and stiff. Restriction of these muscles that line the blood vessels results in narrowing of the lumen decreasing blood supply to the heart and causing heart attack.

Increase in your blood pressure levels also increases the workload for your heart by making it pump harder. Similar to heavily exercised muscles, your heart can grow bigger in size. Your heart is then unable to maintain adequate blood supply to the heart muscles resulting in heart failure.

Smoke, and raise your risk of heart disease

The risk of heart disease is seen to be increased twofold if you smoke. Nicotine in cigarette smoke causes narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart, causing heart disease or failure.

There is resultant increase in the blood pressure, heart rate and workload of the heart. There is also an alteration in the blood chemistry and increase in the clotting of blood that can lead to blood clots within the blood vessels.

Your daily diet and heart disease

If your daily diet is rich in saturated and trans fat products, and processed food, but low in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, then you are at an increased risk of heart disease.

Intake of a diet high in sodium, excess alcohol abuse, and liberal use of butter, margarine and cooking oils can cause increase in your blood pressure.

Presence of excess fat in the blood can also lead to hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels by its deposition inside the vessel walls.

Diet also affects body weight, increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Those extra pounds can affect your heart

If you are obese or overweight with a body mass index (termed BMI and calculated with your height and weight) greater than 25, it’s about time you take a serious note of the risks it brings to your health.

Not only obesity, but particularly central obesity which means extra weight around the waist (more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women) as compared to the hips, increases your risk for heart disease.

This fat in your abdomen increases the production of LDL or bad cholesterol in your body that gets deposited in the inside of your blood vessels. Being overweight itself puts strain on your heart and blood vessels raising your blood pressure levels.

Physical inactivity paves way for heart disease

If you do not follow a physically active routine and lead a sedentary lifestyle, you have twice the risk of heart disease as compared to any person who maintains an active lifestyle.

Physical inactivity is usually coupled with poor dietary habits (food rich in fat and sugar) leading to obesity that is one of the common risk factors for heart disease.

There is narrowing of the blood vessels, thickening and hardening of the vessel wall by deposition of fat. All these factors coupled together increases blood pressure levels and the strain on the heart.

Other health problems and heart disease

You are at an increased risk of heart disease if you suffer from diabetes mellitus that is a medical term for increased levels of blood sugar. The presence of high levels of blood sugar in your blood for a long duration leads to deposition of fatty material on the inside of the blood vessel walls. These deposits affect the blood vessels and increase the risk of clots and hardening of the blood vessels affecting the blood supply to the heart resulting in heart attacks.

You also are at risk of heart disease if you suffer from poor oral health. While it may not be the direct cause of heart disease it could affect the heart in combination with other risk factors.

When bacteria from your teeth and gums travel through your bloodstream they can attach to fatty deposits in your blood vessels. They can swell up and also burst leading to formation of blood clots and cause heart attacks. Swelling of the gums can lead to swelling even in the blood vessels contributing to heart disease.

Below listed are a few heart attack symptoms. They are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Pain in the left shoulder
  • Pain in the chest
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Fainting
  • Palpitations
  • Heart burn
  • Chest discomfort
  • Skipped heart beats

If the person is suffering from the following symptoms or signs of heart disease then the doctor would perform the following diagnostic tests to confirm the disease or heart problem. A few common diagnostic tests are listed below;

  • EKG (Electrocardiogram) is a simple painless test which records the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Stress testing is performed to know the functioning of the heart while you exercise. Abnormal changes in the heart, the heart rhythm, heart beat can be checked.
  • Echocardiography uses sound waves to take moving images of the heart. This provides the morphology of the heart and also the functioning of the heart muscle is checked.
  • Chest X-ray is done to take pictures of organs present inside the chest region. This will reveal the condition of the heart, lung, blood vessels etc inside the chest.
  • Blood tests will check the level of fats, proteins, salts and sugars present in the blood. This test will help in the evaluation of the condition called anemia. High or low levels of these proteins will confirm the person’s disease condition.
  • Coronary Angiography is performed to confirm the coronary heart disease in a person. In this test a dye is used to see inside the coronary arteries. As the dye flows a number of x-rays are taken to know the flow of blood in the blood vessels.

Treatment for coronary artery disease is the same for both men and women. Below are a few points mentioned in order to prevent heart disease. They are:

  • Lifestyle change
  • Follow healthy diet
  • Stay physically active
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Stress and depression management

Heart disease remains one of the main causes of death in men and women across the globe. While some of the risk factors are not within our control, majority of them are preventable.

Advancing age and a family history of heart disease increases your risk of heart disease.

Lifestyle factors contributing to heart disease are obesity, physical inactivity, poor dietary habits, smoking and alcohol abuse.

The other risk factors that increase your risk of heart disease include persistent raised levels of blood pressure, blood sugar, and bad cholesterol levels.