What is a heart attack? / How to prevent heart attacks? / lifestyle changes
Studies on the prevention of heart attacks or myocardial infarction is a top priority for many research projects worldwide because cardiovascular disease or heart disease is still the leading cause of death –about 30% of deaths all over the world - despite giant strides being made in the medical field. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, the commonest of heart ailments, coronary heart disease, accounted for 71%of heart disease fatalities in the US in 2002.
When fatty deposits called atherosclerosis form along the walls of the blood vessels that lead to the heart, the blood vessels narrow down to cause coronary heart disease. These deposits can become so thick in a coronary artery that they stop the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle, blood begins to clot in the surrounding areas and a heart attack results. Such an attack can result in the patient’s disability or death.
Certain risk indicators for heart attack such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and stress can be reduced through lifestyle changes.
- Go for a healthy diet to lower cholesterol—such as trans fat-free food, fruits and vegetables
- Beat obesity by taking up a weight loss program
- Reduce salt intake to reduce blood pressure
- Increase physical activity such as walking and other forms of exercise
- Quit smoking and excessive alcohol intake
- Do yoga, meditation and spend quality time with family and friends to beat stress
Modern living, mainly dictated by market forces, that makes sure people always “want” something is undeniably stressful. Life gets complicated by the day because of constantly shifting priorities that lead to changing lifestyles. Ultimately, good lifestyle principles such as healthy snacking; regular working, eating and sleeping hours, and good and clean habits seem old-fashioned and obsolete.
For example, upsetting circadian rhythms or the internal body clock by irregular eating and sleeping habits due to differing work shifts or erratic lifestyles will surely lead to stress and fuel premature heart attacks.
Smoking increases blood pressure and causes the narrowing of blood vessels. The carcinogenic compounds present in tobacco can cause damage to the artery walls and the carbon monoxide from burning tobacco pollutes the oxygen-bearing blood to the heart. Kicking the butt is of utmost importance in any program that aims to prevent a heart attack.
Earlier there were studies showing single men as prone to heart attacks, probably because married men shared the emotional burden of life with a supportive wife. Now with more women opting to work outside home, demanding deadlines, ego clashes and flaring tempers at home and at work places, mayhem and chaos prevail for spouses too. These ‘trigger factors’ raise the risk of a heart attack. The global financial crunch and market crash have done their bit in launching people right into the stress zone.
A Harvard Heart Letter puts psychosocial factors on par with smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels in terms of contributing to heart attacks. How a person thinks, feels, and behaves can impact the heart for better or for worse. Depression, loneliness, stress, a negative attitude to life and other psychosocial factors not only affect a person’s mood but also aggravate heart disease and can prompt a cardiac arrest.
Though there is no scientific evidence that directly relates emotional stress to heart disease, there are studies that show people who are chronically stressed out at office or at home resort to smoking, overeating and neglect regular exercise, leading to an accumulation of LDL (low-density lipo protein or the “bad cholesterol”) that can aggravate a heart condition.
Research has shown that people reeling under stress related to work overload, frustration, anxiety and relationship problems resort to a higher intake of sugars, highly processed foods and caffeine that can increase the stress factor and lead to burn out and finally, a heart attack.
Heart attack is now no longer a male prerogative. Instances of women and youngsters succumbing to heart attacks are increasing by the day all over the world.
Though most doctors consider chest pain as the most important heart attack symptom in both men and women, a recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US indicates that women heart attack symptoms are different. Signs of an oncoming acute myocardial infarction can occur much in advance (sometimes a month or even earlier than the actual heart attack). Of the 515 women studied,
- 95% experienced new or different symptoms a month ahead of the heart attack
- 70.6% reported unusual fatigue
- 47.8% had sleep disturbances
- 42.1% had shortness of breath
- Less than 30% had chest pain or discomfort before their heart attacks
- 43% said they did not have chest pain during any phase of the attack
Though heart diseases can be treated and managed effectively with modern medicines, prevention is the best strategy to live a life free from the threat of heart attacks.
Making small lifestyle changes such as opting to use the stairs instead of the elevator, snacking on fruits and vegetables instead of burgers and fries or other food items loaded with meat or cheese, kicking the smoking habit, consuming alcohol in moderation, exercising regularly and learning effective ways of stress management can negate the chances of heart attack.
Stress management programs that involve breathing exercises, yoga, aerobics, stretching exercises, swimming, meditation, and massage are found useful in relaxing and calming a person while also controlling the sudden spike in adrenaline levels in response to stress.
A recent Duke University research showed a considerable reduction in heart attacks among patients with coronary artery disease who participated in a stress management program, along with other programs to stop smoking, control lipids and encourage weight loss.
Latest Publications and Research on Heart Attack- Lifestyle risksHDL and heart attack. - Published by PubMed
[Health profile of Institute Mexicano del Seguro Social workers]. - Published by PubMed
Interventional treatment of hypertension: a new paradigm. - Published by PubMed
Taking small steps towards targets - perspectives for clinical practice in diabetes, cardiometabolic disorders and beyond. - Published by PubMed
[Secondary prophylaxis of stroke from a neurological perspective.] - Published by PubMed