The heart is a unique organ in our body. It beats without conscious effort and impacts all of the major organ systems. It’s composed of special muscle fibers that allow it to carry out its main function, pumping freshly oxygenated blood throughout the body. In recognition of American Heart Health, here are some of the things you should know about heart wellness.
Contributors to Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term that refers to diseases of the heart and blood vessels such as stroke, high blood pressure, and heart attack. The most known form of CVD is coronary artery disease (CAD). Coronary artery disease is caused by a waxy buildup (plaque) in the arterial walls of the heart. Plaque forms from cellular waste, cholesterol and lipid deposits. (1) When it accumulates in the arteries it narrows the passageway for continuous blood flow which is known as atherosclerosis.
If an individual doesn’t make changes in their diet and physical activity atherosclerosis will eventually lead to the arteries becoming blocked, inelastic, and harden. This condition is known as arteriosclerosis and is a precipitating factor in heart attacks.
Myocardial Infarction, known as a heart attack, is the result of a blocked coronary artery. When a plaque deposit ruptures in a coronary artery it injures the arterial wall and a blood clot (thrombus) forms. The presence of a thrombus reduces the continuous flow of oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. As a result of decreased oxygenated blood flow, an individual experiences (angina) chest pain (2) This is a critical period because prolonged deprivation of proper blood flow increases the chance for permanent heart damage and death. A heart attack is a life-changing event, it affects the individual and their family members. Predicting the likelihood of a heart attack can be done by knowing your risk factors.
Certain genetic predispositions increase the chance of developing heart disease and experiencing a heart attack. If there is a known history of heart disease in one’s family, the chances of that person developing CVD increase. Lifestyle choices, such as diet, physical activity, and stress play significant roles in heart health. Having a sedentary lifestyle and a diet high in unhealthy food can cause the body to respond negatively to stress. Identifying these factors can improve heart health.
Cardiovascular disease risk factors are categorized as primary and secondary risk factors. Primary risk factors refer to things that increase the possibility of having a heart attack and are viewed as controllable factors. Secondary risk factors contribute to the possibility of a heart attack and are subdivided into controllable and uncontrollable factors. (3)
Primary risk factors for a heart attack include inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and obesity. These factors are considered to be controllable because each can be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices through diet and behavior. Secondary risks are made up of controllable and uncontrollable factors. The controllable factors include emotional behavior and stress, while uncontrollable factors refer to age, gender, family history, race, and diabetes. Uncontrollable factors are things that can’t be changed by any means.
Diagnosis & Treatment
As a result of medical advancement and technology, cardiovascular disease can be diagnosed and treated in several ways. For individuals with a history or present with CVD symptoms, there are non-invasive tests that can be administered in order to determine the best treatment.
Electrocardiogram (EKG) is a test that records and measures the electrical activity, rate, and regularity throughout the heart. Electrodes are connected to specific parts of the chest which record the electrical conduction through the heart.
Echocardiogram is a procedure that uses sound waves to produce 2D images of the heart. These images allow physicians to evaluate the mechanical and structural functions of the heart as it contracts.
Exercise stress test is performed to determine how the heart works when it’s required to pump more blood during physical activity. This test is usually performed on a treadmill.
If these tests indicate that an individual does have CVD and at risk of a heart attack the following tests can be performed.
A coronary angiogram uses x-ray imaging to look at the heart’s blood vessels and to determine if there’s a restriction of blood flow to the heart.
Cardiac catheterization is an invasive procedure that can evaluate several heart functions such as oxygen levels, chamber pressure, and look for blockages. (4)
While advancements in medicine have allowed many individuals with cardiovascular disease to manage their diagnosis, there are several lifestyle changes that one must adopt in order to experience better health.
Diet has a significant impact on heart health. Reducing foods that are high in fat, sugar, and cholesterol can greatly reduce the risk of plaque and the diseases associated with it.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life and can be difficult to manage at times. Finding positive coping mechanisms for managing stress such as taking a walk or go to the gym helps to reduce the negative effects that can result from it.