Focusing on the heart
We all ought to know by now that a lifestyle that includes a high fat, high sugar diet and little or no exercise coupled with a smoking habit is a recipe for disaster as far as our hearts are concerned. But did you know that warning signs of heart disease in later life begin in childhood, that natural hormone replacement is important in women to prevent heart disease and a symptom as innocuous as fatigue could be a warning sign that a heart attack is imminent? All this and more was discussed in a series of lectures at the Cayman Heart Fund’s third annual Heart Health fair. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports. Second in a series of articles.
March’s Heart Health Fair was held for the first time in Camana Bay’s spacious facility and the event drew people all keen to learn more about their own heart health undertaking a series of tests including blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure and Body Mass Index readings. Attendees also packed a series of lectures running concurrent to the main event with experts from Cayman as well as overseas on hand to enlighten the public on all things heart-related.
Dr. Charles Angell of John Hopkins Medical Institutes in Baltimore, Maryland commended the Cayman Heart Fund for the “really important crusade” it was carrying out to highlight cardiovascular disease and the ways in which individuals can prevent its development.
In his lecture titled ‘The Failing Heart’, he said: “We need to pay attention at all age groups to prevent cardiovascular disease. Risk factors affect a person’s life span, so it is really important to keep those risk factors under control, especially when an individual has multiple risk factors.”
In particular, Angell said it was really important to get blood pressure and cholesterol levels well managed, as well as stop smoking and get diabetes under control.
Heart failure was, according to Angell, when the heart failed to supply blood to the body in sufficient quantities to meet demand.
“Symptoms of heart failure can be severe or subtle,” he said. “Fatigue is a common, non-specific symptom for a lot of us; however it can also indicate heart failure,” he explained.
“You can get fatigue from intensive exercise, for example, however if fatigue and shortness of breath come on during normal activity this can be a warning sign, particularly if it worsens when you lie down.”
Angell said that wheezing and coughing can also indicate heart failure however these symptoms can be misdiagnosed as asthma.
Peripheral edema or swelling of the legs and ankles is another symptom of heart failure.
Angell then outlined other factors that can impair heart function, such as the patient having already suffered one heart attack which had already damaged the heart. He said that an irregular heart beat (known as an arrhythmia) could also be a cause, as can fluid overload in the body.
“Fluid retention is caused by salt overload so it is extremely important to watch your salt intake,” he said. “Basically the body absorbs and retains fluid to reduce the concentration of salt in the body when too much has been consumed.”
Other existing conditions that can lead to heart failure include kidney disease, anemia, pneumonia and diabetes.
Angell laid some stark facts on the table: 2 per cent of the US population (or 600,000 people) will suffer from heart failure at some point in their lives.
“In many cases it is our own doing,” he confirmed. “An aging population means heart disease is becoming a really big problem. It is more common in a 90 year old than a 20 year old.”
Prevention is a most important method of stopping the development of heart disease, and this means lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, restricting the amount of salt in the diet, limiting alcohol consumption and taking on an appropriate heart healthy diet coupled with an exercise regime and weight management programme.
If the worse comes to the worse and an individual suffers heart failure, there are various medications available including diuretics, beta blockers, resynchronize therapy etc; but prevention is always the best route, the doctor confirmed.