Have you ever had an experience that has haunted you for a while? I’ve had several, and they have impacted my life in different ways. I recalled watering my lawn in Jamaica and chatting to my neighbor, who was busy tending to his car. During our banter, I noticed him wincing. He took his right hand and pressed it into his left breast. He then raised his left arm over his head, then placed it across his chest as if he was doing a horizontal tricep stretch. I asked, “Are you ok?” He said, “Yes. I lifted something badly.” I responded in jest, “You’re out of shape! Your heart probably can’t tolerate the stress. You need to run by the beach!” We both laughed because we knew that he wasn’t going to be walking or running by the beach any time soon. He loathed “meaningless” exercise and thought his job was sufficient workout for him. We lived walking distance from the beach, and his wife and I would go walking at 5 each morning. To the annoyance of his wife, he never accompanied us on these daily walks.
At about 2 a.m the following morning, I was frightened out of my sleep by screaming and sirens. I looked outside and saw an ambulance outside my neighbor’s house, and his wife was hysterically crying. My neighbor had a heart attack in his sleep. His wife said he had been complaining prior to bedtime that he improperly lifted something and was experiencing shooting pain down the left side of his body. His wife suggested a hospital visit, but he refused. My neighbor was having a heart attack from when we were outside chatting, and we were not aware that he was having one. Every now and then, I play the scene over and over in my head. I should have known. I should have said something.
According to the 2017 World Health Organization (WHO) report, coronary heart disease is the 3rd leading cause of death in Jamaica, accounting for 2,045 persons or 11.94% of all deaths. In the US, coronary heart disease deaths reached 479,223 or 20.90% of total deaths making it the leading cause of death. As stated in the report, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States and the Caribbean.
The American Heart Association (AHA) indicated certain factors can increase your risk of developing a heart attack or having a stroke. They are kidney disease or a family history of early heart disease. (Try the AHA “The Check. Change. Control. CalculatorTM” https://ccccalculator.ccctracker.com/ to estimate your risk of having a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years if you are between the age of 45-75).
What are some of the other risks:
The most important behavioral risk factors of heart disease and stroke are unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol. These risk factors may manifest themselves as high blood pressure, high blood glucose, and high blood lipids, as well as being overweight and obese. If you have increased levels of any of these laboratory results, you may be at risk of developing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and other complications.
Managing the risks:
Now that you know what the risk factors are, you can help your health care team decide on the best treatment plan for you. Some of these risk factors require lifestyle changes. Stop smoking, reduce dietary salt intake, consume an assortment of dark leafy vegetables and fruits, participate in regular physical activity, reduce consumption of alcohol to 2 glasses for males and 1 drink for females, are a few changes we can make.
An illustration of Plaque build-up
As plaque builds up in the arteries of a person with heart disease, the inside of the arteries begins to narrow. This lessens or blocks blood flow. Plaque can also rupture (break open). When it does, a blood clot can form on the plaque, blocking the flow of blood.
Source: Heart Disease Facts https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
While my neighbor never drank alcohol, always eat a healthy diet, and was an active member of his church, he was still a victim of a heart attack at 45. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize what is happening, and when they do, it’s too late. Heart attacks can manifest differently in women than in men.
Know the symptoms:
If you think you are experiencing a heart attack, seek emergency medical attention immediately by calling an ambulance or going to the ER. The sooner it gets caught, the higher the chance of survival.
Other symptoms include sudden onset of:
- Numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
- Confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech;
- Difficulty seeing with one or both eyes;
- Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination;
- Severe headache with no known cause; and
- Fainting or unconsciousness.
Sometimes the risk factors are not measurable on a clinical scale, and my neighbor’s wife died of a broken heart 3 years later. She complained that she should have known the signs of a heart attack, and she never forgave herself for not knowing.
Photo Credit: robina-weermeijer-Tmkwl7EjVtE-unsplash.jpg
WHO Report: USA- Cause of death by age and gender https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/usa-cause-of-death-by-age-and-gender
Heart Disease Facts https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm
8 Things You Can Do to Prevent Heart Disease and Stroke https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/prevent-heart-disease-and-stroke