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Say YES to a Healthy Heart ! 5 Things you need to know to stay clear of cardiac disease

Football fans worldwide were stunned when Denmark's midfielder, Christian Eriksen, collapsed on the field during a European Championship match. One of America’s toughest CrossFit trainers, Bob Harper, a regular on the fan favourite TV show, the Biggest Loser, suffered a major cardiac arrest. Algerian soccer player Sofiane Lokar passed away at the age of 30 years, after collapsing on the field because of a heart attack. 

We know that heart disease has been rising over the last few decades. According to the CDC in the United States, 1 in every four deaths is due to cardiac disease, with over 610,000 people dying each year.  Cardiovascular diseases remain the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in Europe. with nearly 6 million new cases diagnosed every year. 

So why did reports of these deaths in the news take us by surprise? What made these cases stand out? This group of people who suffered from cardiac disease were young and physically fit. These rising numbers are understandably worrying. It questions the things we tend to believe about heart disease- that it’s a disease of the elderly, that you should be safe if you exercise and that your annual health check-up will surely pick up signs of heart damage early enough. 

Heart disease may be more complex than we thought it was. Here are 5 Things you need to know about its evolution so that you can do your part to care for your heart! 

1. Heart disease doesn’t discriminate

Both men and women share risk factors for heart disease like genetics, diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, smoking, stress, and excessive alcohol intake. However, women also suffer from certain diseases like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), and high blood pressure during pregnancy. This, in turn, increases their chances of heart disease. 

2. Heart Attacks are just the tip of the iceberg! 

Heart disease encompasses a wide variety of cardiovascular conditions. 

What are the different types of heart disease? 

  • Arrhythmias, which are irregular heart rhythms. The most common ones are atrial fibrillations or ventricular fibrillation, which we may perceive as heart flutters. They may be picked up when we monitor our ECGs or heart rates while exercising. 
  • Atherosclerosis, which occurs when the walls of our blood vessels begin to harden
  • Cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscles to harden or weaken so that its unable to pump blood effectively 
  • Congenital heart defects, which are irregularities in the heart structure that are present from birth 
  • Coronary heart disease, or ischemic heart disease, is caused due to the buildup of plaques in the heart’s blood vessels, usually made up of fat or cholesterol. This buildup blocks blood flow to the heart muscles, causing the classic symptoms of a heart attack. 
  • Heart infections may be caused by bacteria or viruses and severely compromise cardiac function.

3. Thin doesn’t always mean a healthy heart   

A condition called TOFI – Thin Outside, Fat Inside, has gained prominence in recent years. Although people with obesity or fat under their skin do have higher chances of heart disease, people with larger quantities of visceral fat surrounding their internal organs are also equally at risk. 

These people may look thin from the outside, but studies have shown that they tend to suffer from cardiac disease. Research from Mt. Sinai Hospital revealed that women with pericardial fat (or fat around their hearts) were even more likely to suffer from heart conditions. 

4. Chest pain is not the only symptom of heart disease    

The most common presentation of heart disease is a heart attack or ischemic attack, where people first complain of chest pain or discomfort, followed by building pressure in the chest, breathlessness, or nausea. On the other hand, women commonly complain of jaw pain, back pain, dizziness, anxiety, disturbed sleep, and indigestion. The most frequently missed sign of heart disease is stomach pain in the upper part of the abdomen that could be mistaken for acidity or gas. 

People with arrhythmias may complain of a fluttering or racing heartbeat, a slow pulse, or fainting spells. At the same time, those with cardiomyopathy may have fatigue, bloating and swelling as their primary symptoms. 

5. Routine one-time tests may not be able to pick up heart disease all the time

How is heart disease diagnosed?

The most common tests we hear about when it comes to heart disease are : 

  • ECG or electrocardiograms record your heart rate and rhythm while diagnosing problems with the electrical activity of the cardiac muscle.
  • 2D-echo or echocardiograms use ultrasound waves to produce a picture of your heart and its chambers and estimate how well it’s functioning
  • Stress Tests evaluate heart activity while you are made to walk or run on a treadmill
  • Holter monitors are strapped onto your chest to study heart rhythms over long periods (sometimes 24-48 hours)
  • CT Scans or MRIs of the heart to visualise the blood vessels and chambers
  • Blood tests for cardiac biomarkers like Troponin levels, creatinine kinase, CK-MB, and myoglobin are released into the bloodstream when the heart is damaged or stressed. Lipid tests can give an estimate of your blood cholesterol levels.
  • Invasive tests like cardiac catheterisation and coronary angiographies involve inserting a catheter into your heart vessels through the groin arteries and injecting a dye into the delicate vessels to give a detailed x-ray image that can pick up blockages or other abnormalities. 

Many of these tests are part of the annual health checks that we sign up for. However, abnormalities in your heart using these tests can only be picked up if you are already experiencing symptoms of heart disease. By that time, it may already be too late. This is why continuous real-time monitoring of heart activity is a great way to keep track of your heart health. 

Studies have shown that lifestyle changes can help you prevent heart disease. Research from Harvard University estimated that those who do not smoke and engage in regular physical activity with a healthy diet lowered their risk of heart disease by nearly 50%. 

*The information contained in this blog is provided on an as-is basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy or usefulness. The content in this blog is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content is meant for informational purposes only. This blog contains copyright material, the use of which has not been specifically authorised by the copyright owner.