Truly an amazing organ, the heart is responsible for the delivery of oxygen to all the cells in the body keeping us alive. It beats 100,000 times a day, 40 million times in a year and approximately 3 billion times in an average lifespan.
According to a study by Dubai Health Authority in 2011, it was found that one in five deaths happens because of heart disease. Another alarming statistic is that only 19% of Dubai’s population gets sufficient exercise putting them at risk for heart disease.
The world celebrates this wondrous organ on World Heart Day on September 29th this year. On this occasion,Dr Georgie Thomas, Specialist – Cardiology, at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, outlines a comprehensive overview of diseases of the heart.
Common Cardiovascular Diseases
Rheumatic heart disease: This occurs when heart valves have been damaged as an after effect of a bacterial infection elsewhere in the body namely the throat or skin. Weakened heart valves affect efficient pumping of oxygenated blood to other parts of the body.
Hypertensive heart disease: High blood pressure or hypertension can cause the heart to overwork thereby causing disease in the form of thickened heart muscles structure or an aneurysm, or a bulge in a blood vessel. Aneurysms can burst as the bulge grows particularly in the brain. Aneurysms can occur in the aorta and its branches as well. Thickening and stiffness of blood vessels is triggered by hypertension causing arterial walls to become thick and rigid restricting blood flow. Over time blood flow is completely blocked when combined with high cholesterol levels and it results in heart attacks and strokes.
Ischemic heart disease: Diseases caused here occur because arteries in the heart are blocked due to cholesterol deposition thereby reducing blood supply. When blood supply to the heart is reduced because of the narrowing of vessels, angina occurs. This causes chest pains, that radiate to the upper left side of the body, shortness of breath and sweating. This is the most common type of heart disease and one of the leading causes of death.
Cerebrovascular disease: When blood flow to the brain is restricted because of fat and cholesterol deposition in the vessels of the brain, cerebrovascular diseases like strokes happen. Strokes can cause loss of speech and paralysis.
Inflammatory heart disease: Inflammation can occur in the heart muscle (myocarditis), the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis) or in the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis).Such inflammations are usually viral or bacterial infections. Some cases can be fatal.
Causes of Heart Disease
The main cause of heart disease is atherosclerosis – where the arteries are blocked gradually with fat and calcium deposits.
Lifestyle habits like high intake of cholesterol, obesity and smoking aid the clogging of arteries resulting in heart disease. Prolonged periods of stress cause blood pressure to rise thereby causing hypertension and eventually heart disease.
- A family history of heart disease or ethnicity: According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation more than 66 percent of men and 60 percent of women are obese or overweight in the UAE. The figures were high for the UAE and other Arabian Gulf countries. The UAE results include some data from expatriates – if not the percentages would be higher according to the study. The study attributes it to the notion in the region that being rotund is a sign of prosperity.
- Unhealthy habits: A World Health Organization study found that six countries in the region – the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia – are in the world’s top ten countries for prevalence of diabetes. The risk of heart attack is three times more and the risk of stroke is two to four times more for diabetes sufferers. The study further showed that close to 50 percent of diabetics died from heart diseases.
- Smoking: According to a Dubai Health Authority study in 2011 17.2 percent of Dubai’s residents are smokers with nearly one third of the population of Dubai are to the risk of smoking. Further a Ministry of Health study in 2013 revealed that 28 percent of residents under 18 smoke.
- Healthy Eating: We are inundated with tips to eat healthy, yet it cannot be stressed enough. In an age where processed food is available at the click of a button and eating at home has become a luxury, make sure you make wise food choices. Avoid food options that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and processed sugars. Enjoy a diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and seeds. Limit your consumption of meat and try and do a vegetarian meal at least once a day.
- Exercise: Start by brisk walking for an hour every day before gradually switching to intense physical activity like jogging. Talk to a fitness instructor on some muscle conditioning exercises.
- Beat the habit: If you’re a smoker, now is a good time to quit. If you are having trouble going cold turkey, seek professional help, use nicotine patches or try quitting gradually. If you do not smoke, limit your exposure to second hand smoke as this to has serious health consequences.
- Manage stress: Chronic stress increases the pulse and ultimately blood pressure. This poses a great threat to the artery walls. Daily deep breathing exercises can help as does joining a voluntary program. Make time every week for an activity that you enjoy.