Tag Archives: heart attack

Preventing Heart Disease

Heart health is an important topic for people to understand. Unfortunately , many people don’t have a clear understanding of the most important things they need to know to keep themselves safe. Three fourths of people underestimate their risk of dying from the most common killer of both men and women in the United States. Worse, many people hold erroneous beliefs about so-called preventative measures that actually have no effect.

For example, fish oil is often touted as preventing heart disease, even though that is not one of the meany health benefits. Many people also have an oversimplified impression of the role family history holds in heat disease risk, believing there is a simple genetic disposition when the reality is far more complex.

Despite these misunderstandings, heart disease, while still the number one killer, has been declining over the last half century in the developed world, while on the rise in poorer countries over the same time period. In part, this increase is a result of the success that has been had in lowering infant mortality and fatal childhood diseases in those countries; as more people are living to adulthood, more people are living long enough to get heart disease, which is far more common in people over 60. However, the lifestyle factors that lead to heart disease start in childhood, and people everywhere could benefit from better education in avoiding it.

Avoiding heart disease often means lifestyle changes, but nothing that is onerous for most people. Quitting smoking is one of the healthiest things a person can do, and an ex-smoker’s risk of heart disease returns to normal in less than a year. Women on hormonal birth control need to be particularly wary of smoking. Getting regular exercise—half an hour, or even ten minutes, four or five days a week can provide enormous benefits. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding red meat and other sources of saturated fat, is another change that will improve heart health.

It is especially important for people with known risk factors for heart disease, such as being over age 60, a family history of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stress, or high blood pressure.

Tips For A Healthy Heart

Heart disease is deadly, but heart health can be easy. An estimated 80 percent of cardiac deaths are preventable—nearly 650,000 people. A few simple lifestyle changes can set you on the road to a strong cardiovascular system. Here are some tips to keep your ticker in top form:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and is low in saturated and trans fats.
  • As best you can, get vitamins and minerals from foods rather than supplements.
  • Avoid fad diets. Though maintaining a healthy weight is good for your heart, most complicated or gimmicky weight loss programs fall down on the "maintaining" part. A cycle of losing weight and gaining it back is worse for your heart that simply being overweight.
  • Walking the dog is a great chance to get some walking in yourself.
  • Chose the stairs rather than the elevator if you’re only going a floor or two—or three if you’re up for it.
  • If you use mass transit, try to get off a stop or two early. If you drive, look for a parking space in the far side of the lot, or park a block or two away if you’re parking on the street
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Destress as best you can. Try yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or other stress-relieving techniques.
  • Get enough sleep, six to eight hours every night.

Particularly if you’re overweight, you’re over 60, you have a family history of heart disease, or you have some other risk factor, talk to your doctor about including heart disease screening in your regular check-up. That means a look at your blood pressure and your cholesterol levels. This will help you and your doctor assess your risk and determine a specific strategy you can follow to lengthen your life.

CPR Training

Lower-income and rural areas, particularly in the South, have very few people trained in proper cardiopulmonary resuscitation techniques, according to a new study by Duke University. These are the areas that most need people who are trained in CPR—they are the parts of the country with the highest rates of cardiovascular illness, meaning people are more prone to heart-related medical emergencies—but they are also the areas where people to whom those emergencies happen are least likely to have someone around who can help.

This is a serious public health issue, researchers say, because CPR, performed quickly, can dramatically improve survival rates. Survival drops off ten percentage points for every minute of delay in starting CPR. Even simple compression CPR—call 911, then push hard and fast on the chest until help arrives—can help save lives, at least as compared to doing nothing. Often, nothing is exactly what people who see a person go into cardiac arrest do, generally out of a fear that they’ll do something wrong and cause further harm. That’s why laws have been passed in North Carolina and 11 other states that make CPR training a requirement for high school graduation, with yet more states considering doing the same.

Even without a requirement, more and more schools are teaching students CPR. In fact, the American Heart Association has developed a training kit specifically designed to be used with school health curricula to teach CPR to teens. It uses an inflatable manikin and a DVD to teach the needed skills in less than 30 minutes. The hope is that by teaching CPR to the next generation, we can be sure people will be able to help for a long time to come.

Even faster are one-minute training kiosks for compression CPR such as one recently installed in Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The American Heart Association revised its guidelines in 2010 to reflect the understanding that this hands-only form of CPR can save lives when ambulances are on the way. The kiosk in Dallas is part of a pilot program to create instructional guides that untrained bystanders can turn to in an emergency situation.

Heart Attack Prevention And Recovery

A hospital in Philadelphia has begun to implement an innovative new approach to fighting heart attacks, one doctors hope will minimize permanent damage to the heart and reduce fatalities and the risk of future heart attacks. The standard procedure is to prioritize restoring blood flow to the heart, generally by opening an artery. At Temple University Medical Center, doctors instead use a temporary pump to do the work of the heart. This keeps the patient alive while allowing the heart to rest and repair itself, like turning off the water before fixing the sink. Hospital staff says this has lead to a 50 percent reduction in heart damage.

Another thing that helps people who have heart problems is maintaining a positive outlook. In a study, people with heart disease who were generally happy had a lower risk of death over five years than gloomier patients. Researchers say it isn’t especially the happiness itself that leads to the improved outcomes. Rather, they say, happy people are more likely to lead active lives and get sufficient exercise to keep their heart problems under control. The same study found a direct statistical link between positive affect and exercising regularly, at least once a week; exercise, in turn, cut the risk of death in half.

In addition to exercise and keeping yourself cheerful, you can improve your odds by eating right, quitting smoking, reducing stress in your life, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control. If you have diabetes, it’s important to make sure that’s properly managed as well. If you’re at risk for a heart attack—because you’re a man over 45 or a woman over 55, you have a family history of heart disease, you’ve had a heart attack already or preeclampsia during pregnancy, you’re obese, or any other risk factor—there are medications you can take to help protect your heart.

If you do have symptoms of a heart attack, call a doctor immediately, Symptoms to look for are chest pain that radiates down the left arm and sometimes spreads to the neck or jaw, anxiety, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea or heartburn, poor sleeping, or a cold sweat. Not every heart attack will show all these symptoms, particularly chest pain, but most have some of them.

Cheer Up For Your Heart

According to recent research, happy people have fewer heart attacks. Building on the long-confirmed knowledge that people who experience depression or anxiety are both more likely to experience heart attacks and more likely to die from them, scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that the exact opposite is always true: people who are generally cheerful and relaxed are less likely to suffer heart attacks.

"If you are by nature a cheerful person and look on the bright side of things, you are more likely to be protected from cardiac events," the leader of the study, Lisa R. Yanek, said in a statement. "A happier temperament has an actual effect on disease and you may be healthier as a result." Yanek added that the results are about not simply behavior or even mood, but overall temperament—what sort of person you are; moreover, the exact nature of the link is not clear.

What it does mean, however, is that medication that improves mood, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, can also help lower a patient’s risk of fatal heart disease. Although the link between depression and heart disease is not wholly explored, it is believed that not only does depression effect the heart directly, it also leads to patients being more likely to let themselves go. Patients who take antidepressants take better overall care of themselves.

The Johns Hopkins study looked at subjects over more than a decade. Happiness and satisfaction with life were measured with as questionnaire. After adjusting for age, cholesterol, and other factors, the study found that cheerful people were a third less likely to have heart attacks or other coronary events, and people at high risk of heart disease were half as likely.

In addition to mood, other risk factors include smoking, having a family history of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, being overweight, having high blood pressure, stress, and poor hygiene, You can lower your risk of heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and getting a moderate amount of exercise. This is probably the biggest single step, aside from quitting smoking, that you can take to protect your health.

Winter Heart Health

As winter kicks into gear, people with heart disease need to be particularly on alert. Lower temperatures raise health risks for people prone to heart problems, according to the American Heart Association; a recent study found that a temperature drop of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit means 200 additional heart attacks. Both cold weather itself and other weather conditions that accompany it—heavy, wet snow, particularly—can require more of the heart than usual. Moreover, regardless of the temperature, the longer nights and shorter days affect hormones and make heart attacks more likely.

Often, cold-weather heart failure is triggered by hypothermia. When people are too cold for too long, the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit and hypothermia sets in. The efficient cooling of wind means hypothermia sets in faster—wind chill isn’t just about comfort, it reflects how fast your body temperature will fall to dangerous levels. To keep the body warm, the heart pumps more. That means your blood pressure goes up, a serious danger for people who already experience chronic hypertension. The cold also makes the blood thicker and blood vessels narrower, another reason for higher blood pressure and a risk factor in and of itself for a heart attack or stroke. In addition, the heart requires more oxygen when the body is cold, meaning it’s easy to suddenly become short of breath.

Respiratory infections common in cold weather put extra stress on the heart. The flu shot needs to be administered every year, but if you have coronary artery disease, it could save your life. Flu and other ailments are known to be connected to heart health. Avoiding crowds, staying away from people with colds, and washing your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, and when coming in from outdoors or after using public transportation can help you avoid infection. If you do get sick and you have high blood pressure, read warnings on medications carefully.

One indirect way cold weather affects the heart is snow. Shoveling snow involves a lot of heavy lifting and exertion, more than is a part of most people’s daily activities most of the year. The strain this puts on the heart causes heart attacks every winter. Even walking through heavy, wet snow can create extra strain. People who start exercising in January—a common New Year’s resolution—need to be careful to start slowly and not attempt to do too much too soon, or they, too, put their hearts at risk. That doesn’t mean don’t exercise at all, but talk to your doctor about what’s safe.

A Surprising Protector From Heart Attack Deaths

As many as 18 million Americans suffer obstructive sleep apnea, a condition in which people stop breathing in their sleep. Many of them, particularly the ones who first showed signs of the condition as adults, are obese, or otherwise large in size. Even people at a typical weight are at risk for apnea if they have large necks. A man with a neck larger than 17 inches, or a woman with a neck larger than 16 inches, has a heightened risk regardless of weight.

There are two things that cause someone to stop breathing at night. In obstructive sleep apnea, the throat folds up and blocks the airway. It is by far the more common of the two types. The other is called central sleep apnea. The airway is unobstructed, but the muscles that control breathing don’t get the proper signals from the brain and so fail to function.

Since people with apnea briefly wake up when breathing is cut off, the condition can keep patients from getting restful sleep, meaning a person with apnea can get what he or she thinks is a full night’s sleep and nonetheless wake up tired. Consequently, people with sleep apnea show the effects of sleep deprivation: poor focus, impaired memory, and generally walking around in a fog. People with apnea often snore loudly; in fact, many cases of apnea go undiagnosed except for the patients’ partners noticing the snoring. The intermittent lack of oxygen also directly affects the brain, raising stroke risk. This damage becomes noticeable after as little as one month.

Interestingly, while patients with sleep apnea are more prone to heart disease than the general population, there is some evidence that they are better able to survive heart attacks. Apnea patients seem to experience less damage to the heart tissue during a heart attack, meaning the heart attack itself is less severe.

The primary treatment for sleep apnea is a device called a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine, that helps keep a patient’s airway open while he or she sleeps. Oral appliances are less reliable, but in people for whom they are effective, they’re more comfortable and less cumbersome than CPAP machines.