How to Manage Heart Disease Risks

 

The most common disorder effecting the heart is coronary heart disease is where one or more of the coronary arteries becomes blocked or partially blocked by fatty deposits called an atheroma, a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis interferes with the amount of oxygenated blood supplied to the heart causing chest pain (angina) and a heart attack where the artery becomes completely blocked. Other things that can go wrong with the heart includes issues resulting from infections (for example in rheumatic heart disease), or from a congenital problem (as can be the case in babies born with Down’s Syndrome).

Medical Diagnosis and Treatment
Sometimes patients experience few or no symptoms of coronary heart disease before suffering from a heart attack while others will report symptoms such as palpitations and shortness of breath.  Angina is a common symptom of heart disease and symptoms of this range from a mild discomfort similar to indigestion to severe tightness across the chest. Symptoms of a heart attack are similar to a severe attack of angina, although a patient may also experience sweating, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and nausea. While the symptoms of angina may be relieved through the ingestion of a nitrate spray, a heart attack is a medical emergency and a person suffering a heart attack will require a range of hospital treatments from medications which dissolve blood clots (antithrombotic medications) to surgery to widen the coronary artery through a coronary angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafts.
Ideally coronary heart disease will be diagnosed before a patient suffers a heart attack and permanent damage to the heart. Although Coronary Heart Disease cannot be cured it can be managed through medications such as ACE inhibitors which help to reduce blood pressure and improve the flow of blood around the body and Calcium Channel blockers and diuretics to reduce blood pressure. Patients will also benefit lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking and eating a healthy diet as described in the next section.

Dietary Management

The following advice helps to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease:

  • Limit energy intake from total fats and shift the balance of dietary fats away from saturated fats to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This advice relates to research findings which have shown that people who follow diets high in saturated fats have an increased risk of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. High intakes of saturated fats have been linked to raised cholesterol levels and particularly to an increase of bad LDL cholesterol and a decrease in good HDL cholesterol
  • Limit consumption of trans fatty acids. Trans fatty acids are found in many processed foods such as crisps, biscuits, some margarines and takeaway foods. Although trans fats are unsaturated, the consumption of trans fats increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease by raising levels of LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of HDL cholesterol. For this reason health authorities from many countries recommend reductions in consumption of trans fats.  In addition, unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not essential, and they do not promote good health.
  • Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or plant sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to increase HDL, stabilise the heart rhythm and makes the blood more free flowing. 
  • Consume a diet high in fruits vegetables, nuts and whole grains. These are rich sources of antioxidant vitamins which help ‘mop up’ free radicals stopping oxidative damage to low density lipoproteins (LDL) & the resulting arterial plaques
  • Reduce consumption of salt and salty foods as these can raise blood pressure.
  • Take at least 30 minutes of regular physical activity daily. Regular physical activity can help to control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity as well as lower blood pressure.
  • Avoid smoking as a smoker’s risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2-4 times that of a non smoker
  • Maintain a healthy weight as obesity is a major risk factor for Coronary heart disease as well as being a risk factor for several other diseases such as diabetes, cancer, gallstones and osteoarthritis.
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