A diagnosis of heart disease may be frightening. But the truth is that heart patients can live productive, satisfying lives for years after their diagnosis. You need to know to take charge of your heart and health, including vital and potentially life-saving information on lifestyle, diet, exercise, medication, surgery, handling emergencies, and finding support groups.
Heart disease is the number one killer of American men and women. There is no dispute regarding this fact. The purpose of this book, however, is not to dwell on the negative. Today millions of people with heart disease enjoy active, satisfying lives. What is their secret? Instead of looking upon the diagnosis of heart disease as a sentence to be a 'cardiac invalid' for life, they have used their diagnosis of heart disease to their advantage. They have used it as a catalyst, an event which propelled them to make positive changes in their life. This book is intended to help you become one of them.
When doctors first began studying atherosclerosis, the process by which coronary arteries become narrowed, they believed it was irreversible. Over the years, this has been found untrue. By making changes in your lifestyle, obtaining the correct medical care, and using your mind to help your body, you can 'beat' heart disease. This does not mean that your arteries will be transformed from narrow and clogged to squeaky clean, or that heart muscle damaged by a heart attack will be rejuvenated. It does mean that heart disease can be turned into a positive force in your life.
If you have coronary artery disease, by making the lifestyle changes outlined in this book, such as quitting smoking, reducing dietary fat, and participating in regular physical exercise, you may be able to slow or even stop the development of the hard fatty material that is clogging your arteries. In that way, you are 'beating' the heart disease.
If you have more severe heart disease, or if your heart was damaged by a heart attack, you will not be able to do the same things that someone in perfect physical shape can do. You may retire easily and have to restrict your physical activity. But, working with your doctor, you can create a satisfying way of life. Perhaps, you will have to give up mountain climbing, but hiking may still be open to you. You may be surprised at how much pleasure life still holds for you.
||THE "KNOW-YOUR-HEART" ESSENTIALS
Knowledge is your key to dealing with heart disease. So before getting started, it is important to understand how your heart works. The human body is truly amazing. Biologically, we are comprised of a collection of organs which work in unison, creating the process which keeps us functioning perfectly. Of all these organs, none is more miraculous than the heart. Breathtaking in its simplicity, the heart is awe-inspiring when you consider its tremendous workload. Your heart keeps about five quarts of blood circulating through a pathway of blood vessels that would measure approximately seventy-five thousand miles if laid end to end. And it does so, without a pause, for your entire life.
Your circulatory system includes your heart, lungs, arteries, veins and capillaries (extremely small blood vessels), through which the blood flows on its return to the heart. The circulatory system of men and women are essentially the same, but that of women are slightly smaller.
The basic job of your heart is to pump blood. Actually, your heart contains two pumps which act separately but in concert. The left side of your heart acts as a high pressure pump which forces oxygen-rich blood out into all the parts of your body. The right side of your heart receives the oxygen. The blood then flows into the left side of the heart, to begin its journey again.
Your heart's primary role is to pump oxygen-rich blood to feed every cell in your body, and then pump unoxygenated blood out to the lungs again. This furnishes your organs with the oxygen they need. But your heart also needs oxygen-rich blood to live. Furnishing your heart with this needed oxygen is the job of your three coronary arteries, which lie on the surface of your heart. They are shaped like the winding tubes of the musical instrument, the coronet, hence the name, 'coronary' arteries.
Your heart has also its own electrical system, which stimulates it contract an average of 100,000 times per day. Each heartbeat originates in the specific area of the right atrium called the sino atrial node. This is often referred to as your heart's intrinsic pacemaker. If anything goes wrong with this electrical system, such as damage from a heart attack, the result can be an irregular heartbeat, also known as an arrhythmia. Arrhythmias are often treated with drug therapy.
As the blood makes its journey through the heart, it is very important that it flows only in one direction. The four heart valves ensure this proper flow and see to it that blood which is filled with oxygen does not get mixed with unoxygenated blood.
Even with heart disease, your heart remains a miraculous organ capable of performing its miraculous job. But since heart disease can make the job more difficult, it is up to you to make your heart's work easier, so it can continue to pump on for many, many years to come. Explore your local library to find more information about how your heart works. The more understanding you have, the more knowledgeable and motivated you will be to undertake the essential steps to conquer the heart disease.
||CAUSES OF HEART DISEASE
There are 6.2 million Americans currently living with heart disease. Experts estimate that in about 50 per cent of the cases, risk factors such as smoking, high fat diet, lack of exercise, contribute to their cause. When you have heart disease, working to minimize risk factors can mean the difference between life and death. By reducing your risks, you may reduce the probability of suffering a heart attack or require coronary bypass surgery.
The major risk factors of heart disease are:
- A family history of heart disease. In other words, a primary relative which include father, mother, sister, brother, who suffered a heart attack or developed coronary artery disease before the age of fifty-five.
- High blood cholesterol levels.
- Poorly controlled diabetes with high blood sugar levels.
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure.
- Being male or female past menopause.
- Lack of exercise.
- Stress. Most experts agree that it does play a contributing role in heart diseases.
Reducing risk factors is all made easier because they are often interconnected. For example, if you are overweight, losing weight may help bring down your blood cholesterol level. Exercising not only helps weight loss but lessens stress, decreases high blood pressure, and helps control diabetes.
||HEART DISEASE IN WOMEN
Traditionally, heart disease was viewed as a man's health problem. Early studies suggested that heart disease occurred almost solely in men, while women were viewed as virtually immune. Today, we know that is untrue. For most of the last century, heart disease has been the prime cause of death both among women and men.
It is also important to recognize that virtually all of the research on heart disease has been done on men. There have been few large-scale studies done on women, but these are the exception. Most traditional methods of diagnosing and treating heart disease appear to be effective in both men and women, but they were developed almost solely using men. So, for your own tests and treatments, ask your doctor about special considerations for women.
The big difference between heart disease in men and women is age. Up until menopause, women generally do not develop heart disease. The qualification 'generally' is very important. It is true most of the time, but sometimes a younger woman may develop heart disease, especially if she has a major risk factor such as diabetes.
Although it was assumed that risk factors in men and women were the same, researchers are now finding subtle, but important differences. For example, a fifty-five year old woman who smokes, who has elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure has three times the normal risk of heart attack. In comparison, a fifty-five year old man with exactly the same risk factors has only double the normal risk. Taking oral contraceptives by themselves is generally not a risk but, combined with smoking, becomes a major risk factor.
As a woman, you need to be aware of an issue known as 'gender bias'. This term refers to studies that have shown that women with heart disease are treated differently than men. The studies showed that men were twice as likely to undergo cardiac catheterization, the common diagnostic procedure a patient must have before undergoing such treatments as balloon angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery. Is this necessarily bad? Perhaps. But, on the other hand, research also indicates that these aggressive treatments may be overused.
There are certain societal factors which may also affect a woman's heart. Women tend to fare worse after a heart attack, partly because women are usually older than men when first afflicted. But studies have also shown women with heart problems tend to suffer from depression. They are more likely to be socially isolated or to lack good health after the attack. Furthermore, studies show that women tend to delay treatment and more often refuse to be transferred from community hospitals to larger institutions that offer more sophisticated care.
Make certain that your complaints are taken seriously, your symptoms evaluated thoroughly and you are not overlooked for certain treatments simply because you are a woman. Ask questions. Do your homework. Since women sometimes face more complications from treatments such as balloon angioplasty and coronary bypass surgery, choose your doctor and hospital with proper scrutinization if you need these treatments. Enlist your family as your support team and you can put the odds in your favour.
|| EMPOWER YOURSELF
Mack in the old days when you went to a doctor, you expected that you would be taken care of. This implied that you, as a patient, were a passive vessel, similar to a car brought into service shop for repair. The responsibility for returning you to normal health, i.e. 'good running order' was entirely up to your doctor.
How times have changed! Today, your doctor is more your coach than your mechanic. He or she is there to provide you with expertise and guidance. But you are the one with the ultimate responsibility to get things going right. What happened? How did we go so quickly from a state of total dependence to one of self-responsibility?
From the doctor's perspective, it probably started with the so-called malpractice problem. As the great malpractice problems grew from the 1970s, it occurred to most doctors that many illnesses and injuries were, in fact, at least partially self-inflicted. Sometimes the patient had failed to do what could have been done to achieve optimal recovery and positive return to health.
Over two decades ago, Ralph Nader helped usher in an 'age of consumerism'. People began to question aspects of their lives which they previously had taken for granted. This occurred in all facets of daily life — government, schools and medicine as well.
So patients and doctors began expecting more of each other. We think this is all to the good. Patients should not be viewed as passive vessels, nor doctors as God.
'Empowerment' is the new buzzword for this concept. Your doctor is responsible for doing his or her best on your behalf, but you have the responsibility for doing all you can to positively affect your own health. That is what this book is all about. It places in your hands steps you can take, right now, to help your heart. By taking action, you empower yourself.
Start thinking in a proactive manner. Learn what you can do about your problem, what options you have, what steps you can take to make your therapy a success.