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Predicting your chances of developing heart disease

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Predicting your chances of developing heart disease


Heart disease is the leading killer of people in the productive age group. However, experts said aside common factors such as high blood pressure and excess body weight that predispose people to sudden death due to heart disease,  other salient ones that many people overlook include poor access to health care and health insurance, as well as chronic illnesses like diabetes, reports Sade Oguntola.

Today’s fast-paced life and workplace pressures escalate stress levels, taking a toll on one’s heart. But many individuals are not aware that a strong heart is a result of healthy lifestyle choices and that the healing power of the body decreases when under stress, leading to many complications like hypertension and poor immunity.

Today, even youngsters are prone to heart ailments because of work pressure, unhealthy and sedentary life styles. Every year, 17.1 million lives are claimed by the global burden of heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, almost half of those who die from chronic disease, including heart disease and stroke, are in the most productive period of their lives– between 15 and 69 years old.

Obviously, looking healthy is not enough and one’s heart may even wear out faster than one’s age, thus corroborating the maxim “A man is as old as his arteries.” A person’s arteries reveal the true age of his heart and fitness quotient after enduring the steady beating of the heart — 70 times a minute or more than 100,000 heartbeats a day, which account for the wear and tear on blood vessels.

Although heart disease is the leading killer diseases, but many people are still able to survive heart attacks. Sudden cardiac death occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, which in turn prevents blood from flowing to the brain and essential organs, causing death within minutes. It differs slightly from a heart attack, during which blood flow to parts of the heart is blocked.

What determines who is able to overcome an attack and who succumbs? Heart attack and heart disease are both risk factors for sudden heart failure (cardiac death), but now researchers have identified some additional characteristics that will help doctors to know which people are at greater risk of dying suddenly from heart problems.

According to a team of researchers in the British Medical Journal, common set of risk factors that separate those who experience sudden cardiac death from those who have heart attacks included hidden factors like overall lifestyle, access to health care and health insurance or chronic illness.

Using data culled from 18,497 participants in two longitudinal studies, the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) and the CHS (Cardiovascular Health Study), scientists found several correlations that helped predict risk of sudden cardiac death — and others that helped predict the likelihood of coronary heart disease. These factors do not mean that people without the risk factors are protected from dying suddenly of heart failure or that it is inevitable.

Still, the factors may help individuals to understand if they might be at higher risk of dying from heart events, and motivate them to pay special attention to keeping their hearts healthy.

For instance, the researcher found that black people were more likely than non-black individuals to die of a heart attack before reaching hospital, but they were less likely to have heart disease. Having high blood pressure, or hypertension along with an increased heart rate were strong predictors of sudden death. An extremely high Body Mass Index (BMI) or a low one — being morbidly obese or significantly underweight — was associated with a bigger risk of sudden death, but not an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In addition, abnormal heart beating rhythm, which is assessed using an electrocardiograph (ECG) test is among the strongest predictors of sudden cardiac death.

The good news is that many of these risk factors, such as weight, diabetes and blood pressure, can be changed. According to Professor Ambrose Isa, the former President, Nigerian Hypertension Society, “there may be some genetic and familiar predisposition to developing hypertension, but you will find out that even our lifestyle also contribute to it. Hypertension affects the heart, causing hypertensive heart disease, which can manifest in various ways. It can manifest as a heart failure, cause irregular heart beat; affect kidneys, leading to kidney failure; affect the brain, causing stroke and in the worst case death.”

No doubt, persons with elevated blood pressure are usually told why they should adhere to their medications. Adherence is the most crucial thing in the care of people with chronic diseases like hypertension. According to Professor Sola Ogunniyi, a consultant neurologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, “if people do not adhere to advice, medications and clinic attendance, the chances are that the disease will get out of hand. The chances of their developing complications of such a disease are quite high.”

“For instance, if someone has hypertension, which is known as a silent killer and such fails to take his/her medication as it should, the blood pressure slowly creeps up to very dangerous levels and as such the individual might suffer from stroke or a damage to the heart, kidneys and so on.”

But regular cardiovascular disease risk assessment is important to ensure that one really knows the state of one’s heart. Dr. Ola Oduwole, President, Association of Concerned Others and Project Director of Queen’s Cardiovascular Risk Assessment Centre, Ekotedo, Ibadan, Oyo State, said “even when a person look healthy, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, sedentary living and stress can make the blood vessels grow older than the person’s calendar age. So, it important for every individual above the age 40 to know his or her absolute risk core value so that with therapeutic lifestyle changes, one can have a healthy heart for life.”

Dr. Oduwole stated: “Individuals need to know their numbers. A health professional can help them to measure their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, together with waist-to-hip ratio and the body mass index. All these figures give them an idea of their overall risk of developing a heart disease and invariably help to develop a specific plan of action to improve their heart health.”

In an effort to guard against heart disease, Dr. Oduwole suggested healthy food intake, active style, cessation of smoking, limited intake of alcohol and maintain a stress-free lifestyle. According to him, “eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and unsaturated fat. People must be wary of processed foods, which often contain high levels of salt.  Even 30 minutes of activity can help to prevent heart attacks and strokes.”

”Weight loss, especially together with lowered salt intake, leads to lower blood pressure. High blood pressure in the number one risk factor for stroke just as it accounts for approximately half of all cases of heart disease and stroke. Studies have shown that the risk of coronary heart disease can be halved within a year and returned to a normal level overtime,”he concluded. - Nigerian news, Health & Beauty news, naija, Nigeria, West Africa

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Updated 7 Years ago

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