Dr. Om Murti Anil, National Cardiac Centre, Senior Cardiologist
Heart attack, cancer and stroke are the three top most common causes of death worldwide. Every year, about 12 million people die of a heart attack or a stroke. At least 75 per cent of deaths from heart disease and stroke now occur in the poorer regions of the world. The risk factors for heart attack and stroke begin in youth, and most can be prevented or controlled. Special attention to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and other major risk factors are crucial. There are certain precautionary steps that can help you to avoid heart attacks and strokes.
What is a Heart Attack?
When the blood flow to the heart is blocked suddenly, the decrease in the supply of oxygen and nutrients can cause lasting damage to this vital organ, it is called a heart attack. A heart attack usually starts with sudden pain or discomfort in the Centre of the chest and may be associated with profuse sweating or vomiting. Pain may radiate to left arm and neck or throat.
What is a Stroke?
A Stroke (Brain attack) happens when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted, and the brain loses its supply of oxygen and nutrients. It is caused either by blockage of blood vessels or its rupture. When blood vessels in the brain ruptures, blood comes out of it and this is called brain hemorrhage.
The most common symptom of a stroke is sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg, most often on one side of the body. It may be associated with fainting or unconsciousness, headache, dizziness, difficulty in speaking or understanding speech.
What causes heart attacks and strokes?
Research shows that a number of things make us more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, called risk factors. The four most important risk factors are: smoking and other tobacco use; unhealthy diet; lack of physical activity and obesity. Other than this Diabetes, High BP and High cholesterol are most important causes of heart attack.
What can you do?
1) Stop using tobacco: Tobacco is very harmful to your health. You should try to quit as soon as possible. It will reduce your chances of having a heart attack or a stroke from the day you stop. It will also reduce your chances of having cancer and lung disease.
2) Improve your diet: Your diet plays a major role in keeping you healthy. Here are few tips to improve your diet.
- Avoid salt and salty food like preserved foods and fast food.
- Increase your fibre intake by eating more beans, lentils, fruits and vegetables.
- Eat at least two servings of oily fish a week
- Limit intake of alcohol and fatty foods in your diet
3) Stay active and control your weight
If you eat a lot and are not active enough to burn off the calories, you will put on weight. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Physical activity lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes by: lowering your blood sugar, blood pressure and blood fats. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
4) Control high blood pressure
High blood pressure weakens your heart and blood vessels thus increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure contributes to around half of all the cases of heart attack and stroke. You need to maintain healthy body weight, stay active, eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and fat, avoid tobacco and alcohol and have your blood pressure checked regularly.
5) Control high blood sugar: People with high blood sugar levels, or diabetes also have higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. You can control blood sugar level by: eating a healthy diet; avoiding foods that are high in sugars, fats, and calories; maintaining a healthy body weight; drinking less alcohol; and staying active.
6) Control high blood cholesterol :
Controlling cholesterol is one of the most important step in preventing a heart attack. Those who have high BP and high sugar or smoker need to be more careful for even minor high in cholesterol level. It shouldn’t be kept higher than normal range for longer period.
These medicines may not cure the disease but will protect you from heart attack and stroke. You must take them as directed, probably for the rest of your life and should not stop it unless you are advised to do so by your doctor.
Dr Om Murti Anil
This article was published on May 28, 2007 in “The Himalayan Times”