Failure isn’t heart stopping

Published 8:56 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How much do you know about cholesterol? Did you know your liver produces blood cholesterol, and that it produces about 1,000 mg per day? The food you eat can add 200 mg to 500 mg per day. That bit of information is found on the Cholesterol IQ test on the American Heart Association’s website. It is the LDL cholesterol that is bad for you. That is manufactured by the liver as well as the HDL cholesterol. When too much of the LDL circulates in the bloodstream, it clogs the arteries which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The movies give us a great example of an intense heart attack where the pain hits like a brick and the actor falls to the floor, often times dead from the heart attack. That is only one kind of attack. Some describe it as an elephant sitting on their chest. Others describe it as a mild pain or discomfort or indigestion-like pain.

The American Heart Association says that often times, many victims do not have a clue what is happening. The website lists several clues to the onslaught of a heart attack:

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– Chest discomfort which happens in the center of the chest and lasts more than a few minutes and accompanied by pressure, or squeezing and pain.

– Discomfort in other areas of the upper body such as the upper arms, the back, the neck, jaw or stomach. This occurs more in women than in men, although it is not gender specific.

– Shortness of breath

– Nausea or lightheadedness or a cold sweat.

If you experience these symptoms, then have it checked out. The American Heart Association says that minutes matter. Emergency medical personnel are trained in how to revive a person whose heart has stopped beating. Those who arrive at the hospital in an ambulance usually receive treatment faster than someone who drives up to the hospital.

The Mayo Clinic published a special report on how to live with a damaged heart, which says that it is “easier to live with heart failure if you understand what’s happening to your heart, and how that affects your body.”

The term “heart failure” sounds terrifying. Failure sounds like your heart stops. If your hearts fails, then the blood doesn’t feed the body. However, that isn’t the medical definition of failure. The Mayo Clinic report says heart failure “means that (the) heart isn’t working as well as it should. The heart muscle has weakened, and it can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet all of your body’s needs…many people with this disease experience improvement in symptoms and heart function when they have proper treatment.”

According to the report, every year approximately 500,000 American adults are diagnosed with heart failure (disease). It is the leading cause of hospitalization in Americans 65 years old and older and causes approximately 300,000 deaths each year. More people are diagnosed with the condition every year because the baby boomers are aging, and heart failure occurs more often in the elderly. The other reason is that more people are surviving heart attacks, but are left with weakened hearts. More than 20 million Americans will be diagnosed with heart failure in the next five years, says the Mayo Clinic. More women than men will be expected to have this condition because more women live well into their 70s and 80s than men do. This is the age where heart failure is more common.

Every physician will tell you that if you are diagnosed with this condition, then half the battle is won when you change your lifestyle and follow the treatment plan that is designed to treat the severity and needs of your condition. There is no cure for it, but treatments have proven to be effective in producing a modicum of normalcy in lifestyles, cites the Mayo Clinic report.

What happens in heart failure is the body tries to compensate for the reduced pumping power of the heart. The heart will enlarge in order to produce more pumping power, it will develop more muscle mass because the contracting cells of the heart will get bigger. The heart will pump faster to increase the blood flow throughout the body. These compensations work for a time, and mask the heart failure, but never solve the problem permanently. It may take years to get to the point where the body and heart cannot compensate for the failure. At that point, the person will start to feel the effects of the failure such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and pain. This usually prompts a visit to the doctor, says the American Heart Association.

We have all heard the lifestyle changes advised by the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic:

– Stop Smoking because it damages your blood vessels as well as reducing the amount of oxygen that makes it to the cells in your body.

– Limit or avoid alcohol because it can weaken your heart even further, and increase abnormal rhythms.

– Reduce fat and cholesterol in diet because coronary artery disease is caused by a diet rich in fat and cholesterol.

– Exercise regularly

– Relax and reduce stress because anxiety causes your heart to beat faster, overworking an already weak heart.

To significantly reduce the symptoms of heart failure, lifestyle changes must take place in a person’s daily living. Shaking sodium, advises the Mayo Clinic, is more than just removing the salt shaker from the table. Sodium packs snacks, processed, and prepackaged foods. Canned soup, processed meats, boxed and frozen dinners, seasoning mixes, seasoning sauces (soy and Worcestershire), processed pork products like ham and sausages all have excessive amounts of salt. When purchasing these types of foods, look for the “unsalted” or “low sodium” marked packages. The Mayo Clinic also advises the buyer to beware of salt substitutes which still contain a mixture of sodium and other chemicals. Potassium chloride can also react with heart medications.

In order to live as close to normal a life as possible, the American Heart Association offers some simple advice. Moderate exercise is good for you as it can help the heart get stronger. Daily physical activity can help fight fatigue, and combat stress. Exercise helps control weight, helps improve blood circulation, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Being careful after exercise is important as well. Cooling down with a few minutes of mild activity helps the heart rate to slow down and the muscles to recover. Stretching helps the muscles to relax. It also helps you to maintain flexibility. The Mayo Clinic also suggests that you refuel with a glass of juice or piece of fruit within 30 minutes of exercise. This gives your body a “jump start” in replenishing energy stores that were depleted by the exercise. The report goes on to say, “A recent study showed that a glass of low-fat chocolate milk—which contains carbohydrates and protein—was as good as or better than specially formulated sports drinks as a post exercise replacement drink.

Leisure activities such as family outings or moderate recreation does more than help with physical well-being. It also helps combat depression, giving you more pleasure out of life.