World Heart Day: Celebrate Life with a Healthy Heart!

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“If a good face is a letter of recommendation, a good heart is a letter of credit.”

– Edward Bulwer-Lytton

This quote holds true quite literally, i.e. not just for one’s good nature but for the actual heart, the strongest muscle in our body. It powers our life by pumping blood non-stop, no matter how much we burden it emotionally or physically (with unhealthy lifestyle). This fist-sized organ fights against all odds and supports us round-the-clock from birth until death! Does it not deserve our attention, respect, and care?

Well, that is why the World Heart Federation has declared 29 September as ‘World Heart Day’ to raise awareness about cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) and spread this important message:

“Every person’s heart is unique. The power to have a healthy heart is in our hands”

This day is celebrated throughout the world, with various government and non-government organisations, charities, and NGOs organising a variety of events and activities related to heart health. Read more on the history of World Heart day and the themes that have been highlighted so far.

Credit: World Heart Federation
Credit: World Heart Federation

Different types of Heart Diseases:

Atheroscelerosis is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease. It refers to the buildup of fatty acids called plaques on the walls of arteries thereby rendering them stiff and restricting the blood flow. Atherosclerosis can happen anywhere in the body and the plaques accumulate over a period of time leading to consequences as grave as heart attack and stroke. Cerebrovascular diseases, ischemic heart diseases, and hypertensive heart diseases are caused when constriction or blockage happens in the arteries supplying to the brain, heart muscle, and legs/ aggravated by high blood pressure respectively.

  • Cerebrovascular diseases include cerebral vascular disease, stroke, and transient ischemic attacks.
  • Ischemic heart disease includes angina, coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease, heart attack (Watch what happens), and sudden death.
  • Hypertensive heart disease includes aneurysm, and peripheral arterial disease.

Rheumatic heart disease is caused due to damage inflicted to the heart by rheumatic fever.

Inflammatory heart diseases are caused by the inflammation of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), the membrane sac (pericarditis) which surrounds the heart, or the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis).

Others include congenital heart disease, cardiac arrythmias, and heart failure.

More details on these diseases can be found here.

Why worry so much about heart ailments?

Healthy hearts are the crux of our families, communities, and economies.

Credit: World Heart Federation
Credit: World Heart Federation

With over 17.5 million deaths around the globe annually, CVDs continue to be the leading cause of death and disabilities. Data released by the World Economic Forum in 2011 indicates that CVDs will cost economies a staggering $USD 10 trillion over the next 20 years. This makes CVDs significant, not only in terms of the death rate and severity but also because of the financial strain they put on countries.

Credit: World Health Organization
Credit: World Health Organization

Most importantly, the main risk factors of CVDs – physical inactivity (obesity and overweight), unhealthy diet (hypertension, high blood pressure), alcohol abuse, and tobacco use/ secondary smoking are controllable. However, there are some inherent risks such as diabetes, family history, age, gender and ethnicity, which are beyond our control.

Contrary to popular belief, the burden of morbidity and mortality from heart disease and stroke is not confined to high-income countries. Sadly, CVD is the leading cause of death in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with the exception of sub-saharan Africa. The World Heart Federation has also concluded that global urbanization tends to increase exposure to risk factors of CVDs even in children. Therefore, it is important for governments to accurately evaluate the scale of the problem by investing in CVD surveillance and monitoring.

The World Heart Federation has formulated the S.P.A.C.E strategy, which incorporates five critical elements: Stakeholder collaboration, Planning cities, Access to healthcare, Child-focused dialogue, and Evaluation to support policymakers, city planners, and other stakeholders in making cities more heart- healthy.

Further, the Global Hearts Initiative launched by WHO and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) will support governments in strengthening the prevention and control of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by focusing primarily on tobacco control, salt reduction and primary health care.

Are you well-informed?

At an individual level, it is our duty to take care of our little hearts by developing healthy habits and an active lifestyle despite our fast-paced life.

Some of the basic tenets to maintain a healthy heart are well known –

  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop smoking/ tobacco use
  • Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI)
  • Eat healthy

What many are unaware are the permissible or acceptable values of the risk factors involved. It is very important to know your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels and periodically have them checked, especially as you age. Read more on the warning signs, risk factors and diagnosis here.

In a country like India, there are over 30 million heart patients and about 1.7 million Indian hearts, stop beating every year, as per WHO. It is estimated that by 2020, India will be one of the countries globally to be facing a grave threat relating to CVDs. In India, Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a major cause of death due to CVD, and shockingly 60% of the people who suffer an SCA succumb to it even before they reach hospital. The one technique that save a life in such circumstances is this life-saving technique- CPR!

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), which is the most crucial and basic procedure to save a life in the event of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest, can be performed by anyone. CPR is performed in emergency conditions when heart stops beating. Administering it in the event of someone becoming unresponsive, in the initial 5-6 minutes helps revive the heart and saves the brain from permanent damage.

In a recent survey conducted in India by Lybrate, of the 100,000 people surveyed, less than 2% of the people agreed that they knew about the CPR technique, while only 0.1% said they have ever performed it on someone in case of an emergency.

Countries like the United States, Europe, Japan and Singapore have mandated hands-only CPR in their school curriculum, but in India such a policy step still seems far away. Hence, the need of the hour is awareness about this technique, which could be a life-saver.

Watch this video and register for a training session at your nearest center!

Busting Myths

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding heart diseases and their risk. Let us bust some myths today, be well-informed and spread the awareness!

Myth 1: Men do not have to worry much; heart disease is a woman’s problem.

Credit: Harvard Health Publications
Credit: Harvard Health Publications

Your gender is significant: as a man you are at greater risk of heart disease than a pre-menopausal woman.  But once past the menopause, a woman’s risk is similar to a man’s. Ethnicity matters too. People with African or Asian ancestry are at higher risks of developing cardiovascular disease than other racial groups.

Myth 2: I am too young to worry about heart diseases. I don’t need to have my cholesterol checked until I’m middle-aged.

 Absolutely, NO!

CVDs can affect all ages and population groups including women and children. As early as childhood and adolescence, plaque can start accumulating in the arteries and later lead to clogged arteries. In fact, it can develop even before birth.

It’s a good to test cholesterol levels early especially if there is a family history of heart disease. Children in these families are at increased risk for developing CVDs as adults. Being proactive is better any day.

Myth 3: Cardio-health requires working out/ exercising in a gym 

This is definitely not necessary. Cardio exercises can be done at home and easily incorporated in your daily life.

Credit: World Heart Federation
Credit: World Heart Federation

Myth 4: You should not touch fried/ junk food as a preventive measure.

Myth 5: I don’t need to worry about my salt intake.

It is true that healthy food is the key to a healthy heart. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins is your best bet. Processed, canned, and restaurant foods typically contain high levels of sodium leading to raised blood pressure and thereby put you at higher risk. Moderation is the key.

Credit: World Heart Federation
Credit: World Heart Federation

Myth 6: Angioplasty and stenting or bypass surgery “fix” your heart.

Myth 7: I already have heart disease, I shouldn’t exercise. I am bound to get it again anyways.

These procedures can only relieve you of the symptom (chest pain) and improve quality of life, but does not eliminate the source of the problem- the plaques or the clogging of the artery.

Exercise has countless health benefits, which includes strengthening your heart and increasing blood flow throughout the body. However, get an “OK” and some guidelines from your doctor before you start.

Watch this video to know the small steps you can take to avoid a second cardiac event.

Myth 8: Heart disease runs in my family, so there’s nothing I can do to prevent it.

The risk is high when there are genetic factors. That only means prevention is more crucial and not that you are predestined to experience it. The risk can be dramatically reduced by incorporating heart-healthy food habits and lifestyle changes, which will manage your weight, blood pressure, and glucose levels.

Myth 9: If my diabetes is under control, I am safe from heart disease too.

Normal blood sugar level can prevent complications in smaller blood vessels (kidney disease, loss of vision, and erectile dysfunction). However, it has less effect on the large blood vessels that become inflamed and diseased due to blood pressure and hypertension, which are the overlapping risk factors with CVDs.

Myth 10: Aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids are all good

This is true for the most part, but there are some caveats to their protective benefits. Aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids both can cut the risk of blood clots, such as those that lead to heart attacks. But they also curb your clotting ability, thereby elevating the risk of excessive bleeding. So these should be taken only with a doctor’s prescription.

Myth 11: I will know it, when I have high blood pressure

Myth 12: There would be warning signs when I have a heart attack

Not necessarily!

Most of the time, high blood pressure goes unnoticed as you may never experience any symptoms. It is called the “silent killer”; hence, it is better to be proactive rather than sorry. Over time, high blood pressure damages the arteries and disrupts the normal function of the circulatory system, forcing the heart to work harder to do its job. Early detection and treatment are critical because, if left untreated, it can lead to serious health issues.

Although it’s common to have chest pain or discomfort, a heart attack may cause subtle symptoms, which include shortness of breath, nausea, feeling lightheaded, and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the jaw, neck or back. If unsure, call emergency immediately!

Myth 13: Quitting after years of smoking does not really help.

Each year, exposure to secondhand smoke kills 600,000 people: 28% of them are children!

The benefits of quitting smoking start the minute you quit, no matter your age, how long, or how many cigarettes a day you have smoked. Only one year after quitting, your heart attack risk will have dropped by 50%; in 10 years, it will be the same as that of a non-smoker.

Sources: Orlando health, WebMD, Harvard Health Publications, American Heart Association

Primary sources: The World Heart Federation, World Heart Day