Increased Prevalence of Heart Disease
Your heart beats over 100000 times in a day, and this continues throughout your lifetime! This is only interrupted owing to certain issues with your heart, such as a heart attack which can result from a variety of factors, many of which can be prevented and treated.
In the last few decades, there has been an increase in heart disease in India with 25% of all mortality attributable to cardiovascular diseases. Out of these, over 80% of deaths are caused by ischemic heart disease and stroke. The change in recent times is that the onset of heart disease is now at a younger age with people in their 30s and 40s coming to the hospital with symptoms of heart disease. At the same time, heart diseases in older age are also seen more often as the result of an increase in lifespan.
Understanding the Risk Factors
Age, Gender, Ethnicity and Family History
There are some heart disease risk factors that are not in our control. These include risks associated with age, gender, ethnicity and family history. The risk of heart disease increases with age and it has been seen that men over 45 years of age and women over 55 face a greater risk. There is a difference between men and women because of the hormones, for example, estrogen provides women some protection against heart disease. Race and ethnicity also change the risk with some Asian groups, such as East Asians, having lower rates, while South Asians have higher rates. A family history of heart disease also enhances the risk.
Lifestyle and Diet
Among factors that can be changed, lifestyle and diet are at the forefront. There is a consensus among experts that a leading cause of heart disease is a change in lifestyle and diet over the last few decades. Some of the contributing factors include reduced physical activity along with sedentary office and desk work, which is exacerbated by an unhealthy diet that has low amounts of vegetables and fruits along with abuse of tobacco and alcohol. All these contribute to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes which in turn are major risk factors for heart disease.
High Blood Pressure
High Blood pressure causes the heart to work harder to pump against the increased pressure, resulting in thickening of the heart muscle over time, also known as cardiac hypertrophy. High blood pressure weakens the walls of the arteries making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis, which in turn increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Obesity increases the risk for heart disease as it is associated with other risk factors such as hypertension, increased cholesterol levels, and diabetes. Increased levels of fat in the blood in the form of cholesterol can lead to blockage of arteries with a consequent increase in the risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack.
Diabetes increases the risk of diabetic heart disease as high blood sugar causes damage to the blood vessels.
Smoking & Alcohol Consumption
There is a clear link between regularly drinking too much alcohol and having high blood pressure. Nicotine in cigarettes has been shown to damage the lining of blood vessels, increase fatty deposits, predispose the blood to clot, and adversely affect fat levels in the blood. Nicotine increases heart rate and raises blood pressure. These lead to the development of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes, all of which as we have seen lead to an increase in the risk of a heart attack.
The stress of modern life can also be a contributing risk factor in heart disease. It can lead to hypertension and extreme stress can even be a trigger for a heart attack. Stress is also linked to overeating, smoking and drinking alcohol which are all risk factors for heart disease. It is therefore critical to address the issue of stress.
Modifying lifestyle to Manage Risk Factors
The good news is that these risk factors can be changed or managed through early diagnosis and treatment. Measures can be taken to help avoid developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, these measures should be taken by everybody even if there is no family history and no existing heart disease. The first thing is to change to an active lifestyle with adequate physical exercise and a healthy diet, staying away from smoking and alcohol.
Diet is an aspect that is important in the development and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Proper nutrition and diet can lead to a healthy heart and help prevent heart diseases. Nutrition management helps to prevent cardiovascular disease. A healthy diet should include less of oils and carbohydrates with more protein.
Food low in saturated fats, fresh fruit and vegetables should be the mainstay of a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats are beneficial for the heart and are found in vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds. Saturated fats in animal products and trans-fats found in processed food like packaged cakes, biscuits should also be on the negative list as they can lead to an increase in the cholesterol levels in the blood, which increases the risk of atherosclerosis. It is advisable to consult a dietician for a personalized diet plan based on age and lifestyle.
Weight control to target obesity will help to lower the risk of heart disease. Physical activity should include a mix of cardio to keep fit with yoga and meditation to help manage the stress in modern life. Physical activity should be done under professional supervision and should be based on one’s age and fitness level. The aim should be to keep the BMI or body mass index in the healthy range, with body weight under control. In case of weight not reducing despite best efforts, a surgical option like bariatric surgery may be considered.
Early Diagnosis is Critical
Most people consult a doctor only when there is a medical event involving some serious discomfort. However, it is important to diagnose any issues early to prevent or reverse the possibility of a heart attack, and hence regular Heart Check-ups, especially after the age of 40, should be done. Once diagnosed, regular medication to help keep blood pressure and blood sugar levels under control, should be taken.
The above steps in lifestyle and dietary change and management will work towards lowering the risk of a heart attack. So let’s not waste time, but start following a healthier diet, a regular fitness schedule, practice stress management and quit smoking, all accompanied by medical advice, heart screening tests (like Healthy Heart Check-up) or treatment if required. After all, it is possible to reverse heart disease with the right approach!