As a cardiovascular medicine specialist and interventional cardiologist, Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., professor of internal medicine and chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, TTUHSC at El Paso, sees the heart at its worst. Conditions his patients present with include narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or heart failure. Other heart problems in his patients are infections and conditions that affect the heart’s muscle, valves, or beating rhythm which are also considered forms of heart disease. “Some heart disease symptoms may be caused by heart defects that are congenital in nature—defects people are born with,” said Dr. Mukherjee.
Many forms of heart disease, said Dr. Mukherjee, can be prevented or treated through healthy lifestyle choices. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently defined ‘ideal cardiovascular health’ and linked it to seven simple measures that people can make through diet and lifestyle changes. According to research and studies, these seven health factors and lifestyle behaviors can greatly affect quality of life and lifespan as well as dramatically reduce the financial burden of the population. “With these measures, American health, especially in middle age and even younger, can be changed for the better.”
With this in mind, the AHA has launched a two-pronged national goal of improving the cardiovascular health of Americans by 20 percent, as well as reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent–by the year 2020. The AHA is working with healthcare, government and other agencies to help change policy to help Americans achieve this ideal cardiovascular health. “Instead of just treating heart disease and stroke, we should all strive to avoid the disease altogether and that begins with prevention,” said Dr. Mukherjee.
“Life’s Simple Seven” measures can be applied to everyone:
- Stopping smoking or never smoking
- Having a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 kg/m2
- Exercising regularly
- Having a cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dl
- Controlling blood pressure
- Controlling blood sugar
For some people, the above measures are easier said than done, said Dr. Mukherjee, especially for those who have smoked for many years. Consider that the risk of heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes smoked, the duration of smoking and a younger age of start.
He says tobacco smoke contains thousands of toxic chemicals including nicotine which contribute to the development of heart disease by:
- Increasing heart rate and blood pressure
- Increasing the workload of the heart
- Decreasing good cholesterol and increasing bad cholesterol
- Damaging the lining of arteries and promoting the build-up of plaque
Another important fact about heart disease and smoking he notes, is that the rate of development of heart disease and the risk of dying from it is 70 percent greater for smokers. “And people who continue to smoke after a heart attack are four times as likely to have a second heart attack and an increased risk of death within four years.”
Quitting smoking has an immediate benefit on heart rate, blood pressure and cardiac workload. And smokers with heart disease who quit reduce their risk of a second heart attack and death by 50 percent in the first year. After four to five years, the risks for heart attack and death are the same as for non-smokers.
“Incorporating ‘Life’s Simple Seven’ into your life won’t happen overnight. But it’s a good start. Do it for those you love,” he said.