It seems like every time we turn around we hear of someone we knew dying of a heart attack. Many of these people are quite young and, for them, heart disease is the last thing one would expect. Even for people getting up in age, dying suddenly of a heart attack, leaving a bereaved family to carry on is not what most people would choose for themselves or their loved ones. It’s true that there are a certain portion of heart attacks that occur due to obscure congenital problems (ones that people are born with). Those are the ones that are difficult to predict, and most of the time there is nothing that can be done to help people in those cases. But, there are many forms of heart disease that are easily preventable and treatable, once they are suspected or discovered. The problem is often the diagnosis in the first place. The problem is that often, until people are showing serious signs, heart disease remains hidden. That is one of the reasons that heart disease is called the silent killer.
While there are many times that heart disease doesn’t show itself clearly to us, there are also many times when it does. Sometimes we are aware and pick up on the signs and at other times we don’t realize or think it’s something else, and leave it undiscovered until more serious symptoms begin to appear. It’s important to know what the signs are. Always remember that what you don’t know CAN hurt you!
Signs to Look Out For (you may be having a heart attack or have heart disease):
- Breathlessness at light exertion
- Edema (fluid retention) around the ankles, wrists, feet, or other places
- Fatigue or weakness – particularly after only light exertion
- Tendency to feel faint (or to pass out)
- Sudden breathlessness (without exertion)
- Cyanosis (blue lips and nails)
- Coughing or wheezing particularly if it is accompanied with white phlegm
- Heart palpitations (rapid heartbeat, skipped beat, flip-flop heart)
- Chest pain or tightness (with or without heavy or light exertion)
- Pain or tightness in other areas, such as the shoulder, arm (particularly on the left side, but this could also occur on the right side), neck, abdomen, face, jaw, back, or stomach (with or without heavy or light exertion (this will feel something like a dull, gripping, squeezing, band-like pain or heavy feeling
- Burning or severe tightness in the chest area (possibly radiating out to the arm, neck, jaw, shoulder, or back)
- Sweating (with or without heavy or light exertion)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Overall lack of appetite
- Indigestion, heartburn, or a choking feeling
- Anxious feeling
- Weight gain (particularly if it is rapid and unwarranted)
You must be aware of what is going on inside your body, and the above mentioned symptoms are particularly important to watch out for if you have not experienced them before, and are suddenly experiencing them for the first time, whether or not they get better with rest. You must also pay attention to whether or not these symptoms are brought on by stress, because with heart disease (or an impending heart attack) the symptoms can get worse when the person is under general stress or in a stressful situation.
There are some statistics that show that heart attacks occur more frequently between the hours of 4 AM and 10 AM, and are increased in the winter (particularly in northern areas of the globe). But this doesn’t mean that a person can’t have a heart attack at any time, in any place.
There are certain risk factors that are associated with heart disease and heart attacks. When these factors are present the likelihood of a heart attack or heart disease being present are increased a great deal (although the presence of these factors doesn’t mean that you will have a heart attack or heart disease, it certainly increases your chances). Thus, if you can associate any or all of these factors with yourself, you really need to reduce or eradicate as many of them as possible, as quickly as possible. Remember these are things that you can change if you want to!
- Being overweight (particularly severely)
- Smoking (or other form of nicotine addiction, like chewing tobacco, etc) Even nicotine replacement products (like those kits that help you quit smoking) can increase your risk
- Alcohol abuse (here in Kuwait this isn’t a huge problem, since alcohol is banned here but Westerners take note!
- If you are on certain medications that have been associated with heart attacks or heart disease (such as Vioxx, Celebrex, or Aleve (which are promoted for the reduction of pain, particularly joint pain, rheumatism and arthritis)
- Inactivity (if you don’t exercise regularly)
There are also several health factors that may make heart attacks and heart disease more likely:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- If you are a male (sorry guys!)
- You have a family history of heart attacks or heart disease
- You are a post menopausal female (sorry ladies!)
- Age (the older you get the more likely)
- You are highly stressed or often angry
- Accumulation of body fat around the midsection area
- If you have ever suffered from rheumatic fever in your life
All of these factors are important and many of them are completely reversible. You don’t necessarily have to suffer from a heart attack or heart disease. But you do have to be careful. These are factors associated with an increased risk, so be aware!
The bottom line is if and when you suffer from chest pain for no apparent reason (you haven’t just fallen from the top of a four story building or gotten in a fight with Mohammad Ali, etc), particularly if this pain lasts for more than 15 minutes you need to get medical help immediately. If your pain is accompanied by any of the other symptoms mentioned above, you need to hurry. There is no need to wait to see what will happen. It might already be too late. Heart attacks kill swiftly.
Knowing the symptoms of heart disease isn’t really enough to do in order to save your self from the dangers of getting heart disease or having a heart attack. You really have to do whatever you can to prevent getting ill in the first place. While it is true that some people have a genetic predisposition to this problem, this in itself doesn’t mean that the person is going to get the disease for sure, and even those people who have several family members that have died from or suffer from heart problems don’t have to consider themselves impossible to help. Almost everyone can be helped. But, action must be taken. You really can’t sit back, do nothing and expect miracles.
If you are one of those unlucky people who have a strong genetic link to heart disease, then prevention for you could mean the difference between life and death. If you already suffer from heart problems, it still isn’t too late to prevent further damage, and, in certain cases, you may even be able to reverse your damage. It is possible to do that, and research has shown that it can be done. The question is what is it that you have to do, and are you willing to do it?
Dietary changes are important steps to improving your chances against heart disease. If you are overweight this is particularly dangerous, and must be taken care of as quickly as you can. The people who are in the most danger with regards to weight are those who have a spare tire of fat right around the midsection. Particularly those who have bodies that are proportioned like apples, with more weight around the upper body, and less at the bottom, but this doesn’t mean that all overweight people aren’t at risk, because they really are. The good news though is that you can reverse the effects of obesity on your heart by simply losing weight! So, even if you are only slightly overweight, you should really get started on losing it as fast as you can. This can be done with diet and exercise.
The heart health diet is the same as practically every other healthy whole foods diet. Eat plenty of fresh, healthy proteins (you can have red meats too, but everything must be in moderation and not altered by preservation methods, like curing, salting, etc). Eggs are not a no-no if you are on a heart healthy diet, but with everything you do, eat in moderation. Don’t overdo any food in particular, no matter how healthy it is supposed to me.
Be sure to have plenty of fresh whole fruits and vegetables, particularly vegetables. Stay away from corn, tomatoes, and starchy vegetables, and keep fruit intake low, and preferably concentrate on low glycemic fruit like berries. Blueberries are some of the best of all and contain so many good nutrients that they are considered a “super food”, but unfortunately they aren’t widely available in Kuwait, so unless you like frozen ones stick with fruit that is more available, like strawberries, for example. It is preferable to stay away from fruits and vegetables that are grown in far away places and from completely different climates than this one, and since we live in a desert region, fruit like oranges, bananas, etc are better left alone. You can get more vitamins and minerals from dates for the most part anyway.
Choose your cooking oils carefully as well. Corn oil isn’t the best choice, even though it is of vegetable origin. It is better to choose coconut or palm oil for hot cooking (like deep frying, etc),or even better tallow, and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is the best choice for cold oil use (like for salads, etc).
Whole grains are an important part of your daily diet. Note the part where I say “whole”. This means that white refined flour isn’t one of those things that you should allow yourself to have. Have whole wheat, whole barley, whole oats, etc. There are many other grains available in the market as well, and if you’ve never tried them before, now is the time to experiment. You can make pilafs with them, use them as additives for soups, bake with them, and more. Just use your imagination and cook! But, remember, if you are overweight and need to lose a lot of weight, it is easier to lose weight if you cut down on your carbohydrates a fair amount. So, for those who are considered obese, stick with your proteins and non-starchy vegetables until you have lost most of your weight, and then you can begin to add in more carbohydrates again later.
An important part of any weight loss program is exercise. This is even more important for those who suffer from heart problems. But, with heart problems you must be very careful to do the type of exercise that is conducive to a healthy circulatory system, and weight loss without overdoing it. If you exercise too strenuously you could even cause yourself a heart attack or angina (which is when your chest hurts and you can’t breathe well), so moderation is the key here. Moderately paced walking or swimming are always the best choices when it comes to heart problems or preventing them. Other more strenuous forms of exercise could also be fine for some, depending on whether or not they already suffer from any kind of heart problem. Join a good gym if you don’t like to be outside, and, here in Kuwait, the heat is often too much for people to take, particularly in the middle of the summer months here where it can get into the 50’s (centigrade)! If you like to walk, go to the mall. It’s air-conditioned there and there are long walkways that you can go around in, but don’t stop too often to window shop! Bicycle riding, trampoline, and any other mildly aerobic sports, done in moderation are going to be great for you! So get out there and start taking action right away!
These are just a few of the simple things that people can do for heart disease prevention and even to help reverse the damage that heart disease does. If you know that you have a family history of heart problems or if you are suffering from heart problems already, do something right away. You will be able to help yourself and save your family from the deep sadness that they will feel when you are gone.