This article first appeared in the medical column “Ask-the-Doc” in the World Journal
Heart disease is an umbrella term for heart related diseases. Coronary heart disease (narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart), arrhythmia, heart disease involving one or more valves of the heart, and heart failure are all common heart diseases. Patients may sometimes experience multiple heart problems at one time, such as coronary heart disease, valvular heart disease, and heart failure. However, the most common heart disease is coronary heart disease.
At one time, heart disease was considered to be common only in the Western population. However, in recent years, heart disease has become more prevalent in the Chinese community, and is now considered a health threat. Cardiologist, Dr. Jane Lombard explained that in the past, Chinese cardiovascular health was fairly good since there were not as many obese Chinese. However, the risk for heart disease among the Chinese has risen dramatically due in large part to changes in diet and lifestyle. Dr. Lombard said that the disease is not limited to middle-aged and elderly patients; she also sees patients who are in their 30’s.
Narrowing of blood vessels results in reduced blood flow to the heart, Dr. Lombard explained. Symptoms can include chest pain, difficulty breathing, fatigue, dizziness, palpitations, and asthma. Severe cases can lead to fainting or even death. She further explained that patients should be especially careful while lying flat. Blood flows back into the heart when a person is lying down. If normal heart function is compromised by disease, then the heart cannot pump efficiently, leading to accumulation of fluid in the chest. That is a dangerous situation that can cause difficulty breathing.
Many factors can trigger heart disease, Dr. Lombard continued. Factors include: high cholesterol leading to vessel blockage and restricted blood flow, hypertension-induced vessel constriction, stress-induced changes in the heart, smoking-induced narrowing of the blood vessels, and obesity-induced hypertension and diabetes, both high risk factors for heart disease.
Heart disease is closely related to lifestyle. Changing eating habits and developing a habit for exercise are the best ways to prevent it. One should reduce consumption of salt and oil, increase fiber intake, and reduce the intake of bad cholesterol. Commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol,” low-density lipoproteins (LDL) can enter vessel walls because they are low density in nature. Too much LDL in your bloodstream can cause sclerosis. In contrast, “good cholesterol” can help remove plaque from vessels and return it to the liver where it can be eliminated from the body, thereby reducing disease risk.
Smoking not only causes sclerosis of the blood vessels, but also increases bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. The situation often improves after quitting smoking for two years. To maintain a healthy heart, it is important to develop a habit for aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, helps reduce vessel sclerosis, reduces stress, and is a protective factor for heart health.
Monday, March 19, 2012
by Richard Lee