Tag Archives: heart

Go Red For Women

Heart disease kills more women than breast cancer. In fact, it kills more women than every form of cancer combined—one in four American women can expect to die of heart disease, making it the number one cause of death for women in the United States. Not only do more women die of heart disease than die of cancer, more women die of heart disease than men do, in part because people, doctors and patients alike, don’t realize that women don’t show heart disease the way men do. An estimated 42 million women have undiagnosed heart disease, and one reason it is undiagnosed is that health care professionals are looking for male symptoms women don’t have.

On top of that, the symptoms of heart disease in women are more subtle than in men, making them harder to spot as well as harder to recognize. When a woman has heart disease, it affects the main arteries, but is more likely to be in the smaller blood vessels in the chest as well than when a man does. She may experience neck or shoulder ache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, throat pain, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness and fatigue, or sweating.

The the symptoms are different, the risk factors for heart disease are largely the same in men and women, though not always to the same degree. Diabetes and stress, for example, are more strongly linked to heart disease in women. Smoking is one of the biggest controllable risk factors for heart disease in anyone, because it narrows the blood vessels, but this is particularly the case with the smaller ones that are more affected in women. The danger of smoking is also exacerbated by hormonal birth control; the hormones make the effects of smoking worse. On top of that, hormonal birth control is itself a risk factor, as are the hormonal changes wrought by menopause, both concerns unique to women.

To raise awareness of the special concerns women have for heart health, today is the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Day. Today is the day to start to take steps to lower your risk of heart disease death. That means quitting smoking. It means making the effort to get enough exercise, about 30 to 60 minutes most days. It means a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. It means maintaining a healthy weight. It means talking to your doctor about an aspirin regimen that can help prevent arterial plaque from building up. It’s never too early, and you’re never too young, to start protecting your heart.

Heart Health

The heart is the body’s motor, and when it stalls out, it can cause problems. The heart doesn’t deteriorate as its person gets older, but when heart disease strikes, it can interfere with the functioning. Heart disease is deadly, and it gets more likely with age. However, just because it is more likely doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. It is estimated that 80 percent of cardiac-related deaths could have been prevented. That would mean saving close to 650,000 people. It’s easy to keep the heart healthy with a few simple lifestyle changes.

Avoiding stress is one of the most important things a person can do to prevent heart disease, and it has a fairly large return on investment, yielding a lot of improvement for simple actions. Destressing can mean slowing down, getting enough sleep, organizing one’s life—through straightening up the home, the office, and the e-mail inbox as well as staying on top of scheduling by making to-do lists and maintaining a calendar. Taking a relaxed attitude and keeping life in perspective also helps. And some destress techniques are also good for the heart in and of themselves, such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and staying active.

In fact, even simply walking can help the heart—as little as parking at the far end of the lot, or getting off the bus of subway one stop earlier than usual, will make a difference. Just 30 minutes of walking a day provides benefits. More intense workouts are even better for people who can do them. Twenty-five minutes of intense aerobic exercise a day, three days a week is a great way to build a healthy heart.

A heart-healthy diet is also important, but it doesn’t have to be bland or boring. Good menu options for heart health include oatmeal which can be dressed with fruit such as bananas; avocados, including in guacamole; soy; olive oil; and berries. These foods help lower cholesterol, cut fat, and provide protein. Potatoes, tomatoes, red wine, and green tea are all good for the heart, containing substances that actually fight heart disease , such as lycopene in tomatoes and flavonols in red wine. Flavonols are also found in dark chocolate, another indulgence that helps the heart.

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.

Managing Your Stroke Risk

Stroke, an interruption in the flow of blood to the brain, affects more than three quarters of a million Americans each year. A person has a stroke, on average, every 40 seconds. It is the fourth most common cause of death in the country. It’s important to know the risk factors, both in order to better assess a person’s chances of having a stroke and, in some cases, to address bad habits that are making those chances higher than they need to be.

There are some risk factors for stroke that a person simply cannot control. The biggest one is age—every decade of life past 55 doubles someone’s risk. Family history of stroke is another one. Black people are more prone to stroke than people of other races, and women more so than men. There are also some other conditions, themselves due to a mix of controllable and uncontrollable factors, that raise stroke risk, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Another such condition is insomnia. The close to one-third of people who have trouble falling or staying asleep are 54 percent more prone to strokes than their well-rested peers. Insomnia was found to exacerbate the effects of diabetes on stroke risk, suggesting a link with the observed connection between insomnia and overeating. In addition, some activities, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, both raise stroke risk and often lead to insomnia. Researchers also suggest that lack of sleep raises blood pressure and causes mild inflammation, heightening vulnerability to stroke.

Marijuana also seems to show a link with stroke, as well as smaller stroke-like incidents called transient ischemic attacks. Though not as harmful as tobacco, marijuana is often smoked, and smoking anything can have deleterious effects on the cardiovascular system. In addition, marijuana is likewise associated with overeating, and also with being sedentary. The effect is most pronounced with heavy use.

People might not consider high stress a controllable risk factor, but it is, at least compared to gender. At any rate, relaxation techniques such as yoga can help lower the risk. A poor diet—high in salt and saturated fats—is something else that can be controlled. Even if saturated and trans fats can’t be cut out entirely, minimizing them in the diet can help. Quitting smoking makes a tremendous difference, particularly for women taking birth control pills. Finally, other illnesses that raise the risk do so less if properly treated.

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.

Go Red For Women

One in four American women will die of heart disease—more than every form of cancer combined. It is the number one cause of death for women in this country, and actually kills more women than men. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that heart disease looks different in women and men, and so they miss the signs because they don’t know what to look for. It is estimated, in fact, that 42 million women have undiagnosed heart disease. Women who get heart attacks don’t have the obvious signs men do.

The symptoms of heart attack in women are more subtle. Women experience neck or shoulder ache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, throat pain, nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness and fatigue, and sweating. One reason for the difference is that when women have coronary blockage, it isn’t only the main arteries that are blocked, the smaller blood vessels in the chest are also affected.

The risk factors for heart disease are mostly the same in women as in men—though menopause and hormonal birth control are risk factors as well. In addition, the degree to which these things affect women and men can be different. Diabetes, for example, is more strongly linked to heart disease in women. The biggest controllable risk factor for heart disease in women is smoking. Smoking narrows the blood vessels, making them more prone to blockage, particularly the smaller ones that are more affected in women. The danger of smoking is also exacerbated by hormonal birth control; the hormones make the effects of smoking worse. Similarly, while stress makes everyone more prone to heart ailments, this is particularly the case for women.

To raise awareness of the special concerns women have for heart health, today is the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Day. Today is the day to start to take steps to lower your risk of heart disease death. That means quitting smoking. It means making the effort to get enough exercise, about 30 to 60 minutes most days. It means a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. It means maintaining a healthy weight. It means talking to your doctor about an aspirin regimen that can help prevent arterial plaque from building up. It’s never too early, and you’re never too young, to start protecting your heart.

Mechanisms Of Cholesterol

A protein called kinesin has an unusual property: it walks within cells, along structures called microtubules, carrying material from the center of the cell to the edges. This means that the kinesin protein plays an important role in cell division, and therefore in growth and healing. Kinesin is also part of the process by which the areas of the brain communicate with each other and with the nerves and muscles in the body.

Now researchers have found another important function kinesin performs in the body. Kinesin is involved in regulating cholesterol levels, especially the amount of "bad" LDL cholesterol. The protein plays a key role in the mechanism by which pockets in the liver draw cholesterol out of the blood, engulfing it, a process called endocytosis. The walking protein does not walk in this role; instead, it simply provides structural support to the liver cells.

The form of cholesterol this process operates on, referred to as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, is termed "bad" in contrast to its high-density counterpart. Excessive LDL is associated with cardiovascular disease. It causes wax-like plaque to build up within the arteries, making them narrower and more rigid. When this happens, less blood can go through the blood vessel and blood pressure increases. By contrast, HDL—which even in healthy people is less than half as common as LDL—helps clean out this plaque. That means that while it’s dangerous to have high levels of LDL, it’s also dangerous for HDL levels to be too low.

Except when it goes wrong. Recent studies have given scientists insight into how HDL can turn on people, promoting rather than preventing disease. In patients who already have clogged arteries, HDL can become dysfunctional, losing its ability to clean the arteries and raising the risk of heart disease. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to reducing bad cholesterol. That doesn’t mean avoiding foods high in cholesterol, but it does mean avoiding foods high in saturated fat, which is what raises cholesterol levels. The polyunsaturated fats in foods such as walnuts an almonds actually help to reduce LDL levels, and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can likewise be beneficial. High-fiber foods, too, such as oatmeal, can help get bad cholesterol down.

Sleep And Your Heart

Sleep apnea, when a sleeping person briefly stops breathing during the night, is a hidden condition. The primary symptom happens while patients are sleeping; that means it can do its damage surreptitiously, right under a sufferer’s nose, and not be recognized for years, if ever. The condition isn’t directly detectable at an ordinary check-up. There’s no blood test for it. In fact, more than three-quarters of the estimated 40 million people in the United States with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. The only way to diagnose sleep apnea is, first, to be looking for it specifically, and then usually to do a sleep study, in which the person suspected of having apnea is watched an monitored during sleep.

Meanwhile, the effects of the disease are difficult to miss, even if they aren’t recognized as symptoms. Because people wake up when apnea causes them to stop breathing, their sleep is disjointed, fragmented, and not restful. That means they go through the day tired and can be unfocused. The blockage that stops breathing in apnea can sometimes be apparent as loud, heavy snoring that may wake others up. Getting a proper diagnosis is important, because left untreated, apnea can lead to erectile dysfunction, complications with surgery, and liver problems.

Sleep apnea also leads to hypertension and raises the risk of stroke. That’s because the fluctuations in oxygen level caused by sleep apnea—down when the patient stops breathing, then back to normal when breathing resumes, every few minutes all night long—induces the heart to pump harder to compensate, meaning blood pressure rises and the risk of stroke goes up. In fact, the oxygen issues strain the entire cardiovascular system, leading to a higher risk of heart disease. Heart disease can exacerbate the dangers of apnea, because the incidents of hypoxia can trigger fatal cardiac events.

Sleep apnea patients are generally advised to lose weight, if they can, since being overweight or obese is a risk factor for apnea. Quitting smoking also helps, as does avoiding alcohol and sedatives that may cause the throat muscles to relax excessively. Beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of medication, but a continuous positive airway pressure or CPAP, machine can be used to pump in air to keep your breathing passages open. CPAP can be cumbersome, however; a recently developed implantable device is being tested as a replacement.

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.

Our Friend the Stethoscope

The stethoscope is perhaps the most familiar symbol of the medical profession. It serves an important practical function as well: it’s designed to enable doctors to listen to a patient’s body as it functions, so they can hear anything that might be off.

The first stethoscope was developed in 1816 by a French pediatrician named René Laënnec, a tapered wooden tube resembling a contemporary hearing aid. The first flexible stethoscope appears to have been created less than 15 years later. The next improvement, in 1851, was the addition of a second earpiece by the Irish physician Arthur Leared.

The stethoscope has not significantly changed its design since that time. George Cammann, who made some refinements facilitating the commercial production of the instrument, also wrote about its diagnostic use. The only real change was the division of the listening part on two sides, for the heart and the lungs.

There are two major types of stethoscope:

  • Acoustic stethoscopes use a hollow tube filled with air to transmit sound. The sensitive listening end vibrates with the patient’s heartbeat or respiration, which vibrates the air in the tube. The earpiece is connected to the other end of the air column, and so the wearer is able to hear the patient’s breathing and heart that way. Although they can be very quiet, an amplification system was developed around the close of the 20th century.
  • Electronic stethoscopes use a microphone to pick up the sounds and convert them into electrical signals. These signals can be heard by medical personnel, transmitted wirelessly to a receiver, recorded, or even loaded onto a computer and analyzed. These analytic tools make diagnosis easier and surer, but the equipment is more complicated.

The “ear trumpet” variety of stethoscope is still in use. It is how fetal heartbeat can be heard. It’s also called a pinard, having been introduced to obstetrics by a French doctor named Adolphe Pinard.

Listening as a diagnostic method takes some practice, but it is the fastest, lowest-tech method of finding heart murmurs, irregular heartbeat, and respiratory difficulties.