Well Being – Cardiovascular Diseases: Heart of the matter

By Dr Mukesh Goel

What is the age to start screening for heart disease?

Every adult above the age of 20 years should go for screening of cardiovascular disease. Individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, and long-standing kidney diseases have higher risk for cardiovascular disease and should be monitored more frequently on doctor’s advice.

What are the basic tests for a healthy heart and how frequently should they be done?

According to the American Heart Institute, the following tests can be done:

1) Blood Pressure: Each regular healthcare visit or at least once per year if blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg

2) Fasting lipid profile (cholesterol): Every four to six years for normal-risk adults; more often, if any you have elevated risk for heart disease and stroke

3) Body weight/ body mass index (BMI): During your regular health care visit

4) Waist circumference: As needed to help evaluate cardiovascular risk if your BMI is greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2

5) Blood glucose test: At least every three years

6) Keep discussing about your physical activity, diet with your healthcare provider

What are the signs not to miss?

1) Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, burning, tightness, or pain in the centre of the chest should be reported to the doctor

2) Snoring and sleep-related problems like insomnia and sleep apnea, a disorder where the breathing gets disrupted while you sleep, have a direct link with the heart diseases and other cardiovascular ailments

3) Unexplained shortness of breath while doing small amounts of physical activity, at rest or while sleeping (that can wake you up) may indicate an underlying cardiac ailment

4) Waking up tired, restless and noting higher blood pressure levels in the morning, signals towards an unhealthy heart

5) Sweating more than usual or without any physical activity, especially if one is not exercising or being active, can be an early warning sign of an approaching heart-related ailment

6) An irregular heartbeat or more formally known as “arrhythmias” is a condition where heart doesn’t pump blood at its normal rhythm. Anyone who is relatively healthy and still having an irregular heartbeat, also indicate towards a chronic heart condition

7) Pain in the chest and upper arm area are what most people typically associate with heart problems

8) A persistent cough is not always a sign of heart problem, as it’s a common symptom of various other common illnesses like cold, flu, and bronchitis. But a never-ending cough can be a sign of fluid building up in the lungs, which signals towards congestive heart failure

Who are the people susceptible to heart disease?

Adults above the age group of 60 years are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease due to the constriction of blood vessels or problem with heart. Individuals with diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney-related ailments are another susceptible group for heart diseases.

The typical lifestyle avoidances of overeating, smoking, alcohol and doing exercise apart, what else can be done to ensure a healthy heart?

1) Stay active: Metabolism slows down 90% after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20%

2) Focus on fibre and healthy fats: It keeps digestive health great, removes excess cholesterol and sugar from body, and helps manage weight

3) Cook simple and light: Cooking if not done using right temperature and medium can be a cause of heart diseases. High temperature, dry heat, barbequing and roasting change the healthy composition of food and form harmful advanced glycation end products; so, stick to steaming, sautéing and boiling

4) Watch your waist: Abdominal fat is a major risk for all non-communicable diseases

5) Quit smoking as it adds a lot of free radicals and damages heart

6) Say no to ‘HFSS’: High fat, salt and refined sugar (HFSS) as they are a major risk in the current scenario

7) Moderate indulgence in alcohol: Excess intake overloads the liver and heart

8) Sleep well as per the circadian rhythm to strike the hormonal balance.

(Dr Mukesh Goel is senior consultant, cardiothoracic, heart and lung transplant surgery at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi)