Heart Health: Staying Aware and Keeping the Powerhouse Safe

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It is a surprising fact that the heart beats approximately 2.5 billion times over one's lifetime, pushing millions of gallons of blood to every part of the body. This steady flow of blood also carries with it oxygen, energy, hormones, other compounds, and a multitude of other cells, all essential in keeping the body in perfect condition. The heart and blood vessels also function as an efficient waste-disposal system, whisking away the various waste products of metabolic activity. When the heart stops, most of the body's other essential functions shut down, some of them nearly instantly!

Considering the heart's never-ending job, it's a highly efficient organ when treated right. However, this wonderful organ is not infallible. If treated carelessly, it is also liable to fail, often brought down by a poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, infection, and many other factors.

Common heart ailments and how to keep the heart healthy:

Cholesterol - It is a common misconception that all cholesterol is bad. Your body needs some good cholesterol to function correctly. It allows your body to make vitamin D and various hormones, including Oestrogen in women and Testosterone in men, and also improves digestion.

However, bad cholesterol clogs the arteries and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood over time.

Here are some steps you can take to keep your cholesterol levels in check:

  • Healthy diet: Meals should consist of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish, and nuts. One needs to limit the consumption of red meat and sugary foods & drinks.
  • More Exercise: At least 30 minutes of cardio exercises on most days of the week help immensely. Examples - Brisk walking, bicycling and swimming.
  • Quit smoking and avoid second-hand smoke consumption.

High Blood Pressure - Also called Hypertension, high blood pressure causes higher than normal force of blood against the artery walls. Untreated hypertension can damage the arteries, heart, kidneys, and other organs. This damage can further lead to increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and also kidney failure. It can also cause vision & memory loss, fluid accumulation in the lungs, circulatory problems, and several other health issues.

Here are some steps you can take to keep your blood pressure in check:

  • Eat healthy: Apart from a well-balanced diet, the recommended salt consumption limit is 2300 mg per day for healthy adults, and 1500 mg per day for those who suffer from or are at risk of hypertension.
  • Physical activity: If suffering from heart disease or other health issues, consult the doctor before starting exercise. If newly starting to exercise or a prolonged break from exercise, it is important to start slowly. Eventually, aerobic exercise like jogging, bicycling, swimming, or brisk walking, for 30 minutes most days of the week is recommended.
  • Weight watching: If overweight, even losing 5% of your body weight can help improve your blood pressure levels.
  • Stress management - High levels of stress raises your blood pressure. Regular exercise, talking to loved ones & a proper sleep schedule can help reduce stress.
  • Avoid smoking
  • Take prescribed medication properly: If the doctor prescribes medication to manage blood pressure, make sure you follow the directions properly.
  • Limit alcohol consumption

The effects of COVID-19 on patients' hearts

Cardiologist Nayereh Pezeshkian explains that nearly 30% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 exhibit heart problems. More often than not, these patients also suffer from more severe symptoms and worse health outcomes. These heart issues may be due to direct damage to the heart caused by the virus. This results in heart inflammation.

  • Inflammation of the heart muscle, also called Myocarditis, commonly presents as heart failure or Arrhythmia (uneven heartbeat). These heart problems are also considered to be one of the primary causes of sudden death in COVID-19 patients.
  • The vascular lining of the heart may also become inflamed due to COVID-19, called Pericarditis
  • Additionally, the virus also increases the risk for blood clots forming in large and small blood vessels, especially in the lungs and heart. Inflammation and blood clots can lead to poor oxygenation in these critical organs, leading to organ failure.
  • The risk of heart attack and stroke is also higher among COVID-19 patients.
  • Due to the effect COVID-19 has on the body, the right side of the heart is forced to work harder to pump blood to inflamed and fluid filled lungs, along with blood vessels affected by blood clots.
  • This prolonged overexertion of the heart muscle causes the right side of the heart to become abnormally enlarged. This enlargement can present as leg swelling or failure of the liver & kidneys.

In Closing

As we grow older, many people may face some form of cardiovascular trouble (an all-in-one term for all of the diseases affecting the heart and blood vessels). However, this is also avoidable in many cases. A consistently healthy lifestyle, especially when begun at a younger age, is the most important step in preventing most forms of cardiovascular diseases. Lifestyle changes can often nip issues like hypertension or high cholesterol in the bud, before any major damage occurs. This post was written with the intention of making readers aware of the risks of cardiovascular disease. The strategies for prevention and care mentioned above would go a long way in ensuring a healthy heart and a healthy life for all.

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