Column: Heart Health Awareness Month

February 14, 2022 | 0 Comments

Lars Erickson Bermuda Feb 2022[Opinion column written by Dr. Lars Erickson]

In February, we mark Heart Month to promote good heart health and to raise awareness of the warning signs of cardiac disease. This is a priority for those of us in the health industry because, despite great strides that have been made in the field, ischemic heart disease remains the leading cause of death globally and in Bermuda, too, as confirmed in 2019 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Raise your own awareness and help us to bring down this mortality rate with this quick and easy guide to heart attacks and how to reduce your risk for one.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction [MI]. It happens when one or more parts of the heart muscle don’t get enough oxygen. That occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked.

If the blood and oxygen supply is cut off, muscle cells of the heart begin to suffer damage and start to die. Permanent damage begins within 30 minutes of blockage. The heart muscle may then no longer work as it should.

What causes a heart attack?

A blockage in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle can lead to a heart attack. A blockage is caused by a buildup of plaque. This is called atherosclerosis. Plaque is made up of deposits, cholesterol, and other substances. When a plaque breaks [ruptures], a blood clot quickly forms. The blood clot is the actual cause of the heart attack.

What are the risk factors for developing heart disease?

The risk factors for cardiovascular disease include: family history, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, certain foods and male gender. Some of these factors cannot be changed [gender and family history]. Therefore, it is important to control those factors that we can.

What are some tips to reduce my blood pressure, cholesterol and risk of heart attack?

  • No smoking! This is the most powerful cause of cardiovascular disease.
  • Reasonable weight loss is often very effective alone at reducing blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of diabetes – which, as we know, is a serious concern for many people in Bermuda.
  • Eat a healthy, diverse, home-cooked diet. The DASH diet is high in vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts; and low in sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats.
  • Particularly important: avoid trans-fats, also known as “partially hydrogenated” fats or oils. Even if a food lists “0 grams trans-fat,” you need to check for partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Aerobic exercise lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol. It also helps with weight loss, improved mood, improved sleep and improved memory. Find an activity that you enjoy that makes you out of breath and stick to a regimen of 20 minutes three times a week at the minimum. Usually, it is necessary to start with shorter times, such as 8 minutes, and gradually add time one minute each week or so to get up to a full 20 minutes. Good exercises include jump rope, jogging, swimming, treadmill, elliptical, spinning, martial arts classes, aerobics programs/videos and basketball. “Start and stop” exercise such as baseball, football or golf are not effective.
  • Sleep! Sleep is when the body heals and grows. A regular sleep schedule with the same bedtime every night and at least 8 hours of sleep lowers blood pressure, helps with stress and anxiety reduction, weight loss, improved mood, improved healing and improved memory. Blue light from screen time in the hour before bed causes poor sleep – use amber glasses or “night shift” option on iPhones® to reduce blue light exposure in the evening.

- Lars Erickson, MD – Pediatrician, Massachusetts General Hospital

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