By Dr Khushboo Shah Sawant
Heart attack is one of the leading causes of deaths in India. It is in fact one of the most common causes of death worldwide. But what exactly is a heart attack?
To put it in layperson terms, it is a commonly used name for one of the most frequently seen forms of heart disease in which the blood vessels which supply blood to the heart become narrow or blocked, and so are not able to supply the required amount of blood to the heart, or in case of a completely blocked blood vessel, not able to supply blood at all. What causes the blood vessels to narrow or get completely blocked? There are various factors, which increase the risk of heart diseases with many of them not being within control and hence inevitable. However, there are enough risk factors which are well within the means of man and thus are controllable.
Some of the risk factors that are inevitable include old age, as progressing age increases the chances of heart disease. This factor of age is fast changing due to changing lifestyle and poor quality of life with the trend now slowly affecting not just the older generation but also the middle age group . The tendency for a heart disease is far greater in males than in females, as it is commonly seen that more men die of heart ailments as compared to women. In case of women, the tendency to heart diseases increases greatly after attaining menopause. Family history plays a vital role towards the tendency of heart diseases. This means that if a person has a history of immediate relatives like parents, siblings etc. who have been affected by heart disease then the person himself also naturally stands a risk for heart ailments.
Still, there are many heart disease risks which can be controlled. By making some lifestyle changes a person can actually reduce the risk factors towards heart diseases. One risk factor that is controllable is smoking. Smokers have more than twice the risk of heart disease as compared to non smokers. So it is best to not smoke at all, or reduce smoking gradually and eventually quit. Increased cholesterol levels is another factor that increases the risk of heart attacks greatly. People should go for annual cholesterol check ups after the age of 35. The main aim should be to keep the total cholesterol count under 200 mg/dL, and increase in the HDL (High Density Lipids) levels which is the ‘good cholesterol’ while reducing the amount of LDL (Low density lipids) which is the ‘bad cholesterol’. It is always advisable for people with an abnormal cholesterol profile to visit a doctor to seek their opinion regarding starting medications to control the same.
High blood pressure also plays a vital role in increasing the risk towards a heart attack. It is in fact one of the most common heart conditions in India. Ideal blood pressure of a person must be 120/80 mmHg. If there is an increase in the blood pressure, then like cholesterol, its interpretation must be sought from a doctor and treatment should be individualized taking into account a person’s entire risk profile. Diabetes contributes another significant amount to the risk factors of heart disease. Controlling diabetes by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular medications is known to reduce the risk.
Increased body weight and sedentary lifestyle also are other risk factors. Increasing weight gain puts unnecessary strain on the heart and also worsens several heart condition risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol etc. Exercising or maintaining a healthy weight by controlling the diet can help. Exercising infrequently or not exercising at all has a higher rate of tendency towards heart ailments. It is a healthy practice to do mild to moderate physical activity. Even leisurely walk or activities like gardening can significantly lower the risk. Eating a healthy diet that is low in salt content, saturated fats, cholesterol, refined sugars etc is a ‘heart healthy’ habit. It is also healthy to increase the intake of foods rich in vitamins and other nutrients especially antioxidants which have been proven to lower the risk of heart diseases. Also consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts is a very healthy habit.
Stress can contribute greatly to heart disease. While stress is a natural part of life, learning to cope with it is of vital importance. Dealing with stress by venting it out in the form of anger or violence only adds to health issues, rather than reducing it. Poorly controlled stress or anger can lead to heart attacks or stroke. It is important to learn stress and anger management techniques, by practicing relaxation exercises, practice yoga, learning to manage time, setting realistic goals, and also learn to accept failure and cope with it. It is important to spend quality free time doing things that a person likes or feels relaxed with.
While the inevitable risk factors are beyond control, it is best to follow a healthy and balanced lifestyle keep the controllable risk factors at bay.
(To be continued)