Cardiovascular disease kills more people each year than cancer, traffic accidents or any other cause of death. Heart disease is largely preventable. Many premature deaths and cases of invalidism caused by cardiovascular disease could have been prevented. Simple lifestyle changes could alter these alarming statistics.
Cardiovascular disease can be any one of many diseases which affect the heart or the body’s blood vessels — for example, heart attack, angina, stroke or circulation problems. The underlying disorder in each of these cases is atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty and fiber-like materials build up in patches on the inner walls of blood vessels. This narrows the vessel and reduces the flow of blood through it. As the deposits develop, the vessels become narrower and less elastic.
What causes atherosclerosis?
High blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking and high blood pressure are the most significant causes of atherosclerosis.
What is cholesterol?
Blood cholesterol is a fatty substance manufactured by the liver and carried throughout the body in the blood stream. If we eat too much fat, too much cholesterol is produced, and this leads to a build-up of fatty deposits inside blood vessel walls (atherosclerosis). Blood cholesterol levels can be measured in a blood test and a desirable level for adult men and women is 5.5 mmol/liter or less.
Can blood cholesterol be controlled?
Yes, in the vast majority of cases it can be kept under control through a cardiac diet. The general rules are:
- reduce consumption of foods high in fat content (especially saturated fat)
- reduce consumption of foods high in cholesterol
- increase intake of foods high in fiber
- keep body weight in the desirable weight range
- include some polyunsaturated fats and oils in your diet
Smoking and cardiovascular disease
Tobacco smoke has three main components: nicotine, carbon monoxide and (cancer-producing) tar. Nicotine increases the heart rate, increasing the need for oxygen and shuts down blood vessels. It also increases the chance of clot formation. Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen from the blood stream.
It is never too late to stop smoking. People who stop smoking at any age in variably feel better and improve their out look for long-term health. No level of smoking is safe.
What about high blood pressure?
High blood pressure has no symptoms, but if left untreated puts a strain on the heart, can increase the build-up of atherosclerosis and may precipitate a heart attack or stroke. Blood pressure should be checked by your doctor at least once a year.
The chances of developing high blood pressure may be minimized by keeping weight normal, and by restricting salt and alcohol intake.
Is overweight associated with heart disease?
Yes, it is. Being too fat increases your chances of developing several health problems like coronary artery disease, high blood fats, high blood pressure, diabetes and others. We become overweight usually through a combination of over-eating and under-activity.
You should check your weight according to the charts for acceptable weights for height. A good general test is to pinch a layer of flesh over the abdomen between your thumb and forefinger. If it is more than 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick, then you are too fat and should take steps to reduce your weight.
How much exercise should I have?
Regular, aerobic exercise (e.g. walking briskly, jogging, swimming, cycling or tennis) should be taken at least three times a week. Each session should last between 20 and 45 minutes, depending on your level of health and fitness and the type of exercise taken. Your doctor can guide you to a sensible and safe exercise program.