The Notorious Killer of Man

small logo

In the United States, one person dies of coronary artery disease or heart attack every sixty seconds. Yes, one succumbs to a heart attack every single minute, more than half a million a year. Coronary Heart Disease is the number one killer of man.

What causes heart attack, a most feared and yet often neglected condition in today's society? This sometimes silent and treacherous disease is caused by many factors. Foremost among them are high cholesterol diet (red meat, dairy products, eggs), cigarette smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, stress, and genetic. Some of the aggravating conditions include high blood pressure, tense, compulsive and explosive (Type A) personality, and diabetes mellitus.

The typical or classical symptoms are chest pains or tight squeezing heaviness in the upper mid chest, under the sternum (breastbone), with or without extension to the arm. There can be shortness of breath and an anxious feeling of impending doom. Some patients develop cold clammy sweats, others may have dizziness or even unconsciousness, and shock in severe cases. In many cases, the symptoms may be atypical, like stomach distress, which the patient may self-diagnose and treat as indigestion. Others may have aching sensation in the nape (back of the neck) or by the jaw. Still others may not even have any symptoms at all, and the first symptom may be a cardiac arrest. Hence, heart attack deservedly gained the notoriety as a treacherous killer of man.

If it could be a silent, looming, serious ailment, how does one tell if he/she has the disease? The condition that leads to heart attack is called coronary arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the coronary arteries, the vessels that supply blood (oxygen and nutrition) to the actively and continuously pumping muscles of the heart. Arteriosclerosis develops over a period of time. The coronary arteries and other arteries of children, ages 5, 6, 7 years old, who died of accidents, poisoning, and who were autopsied, revealed the presence of a thin film of hardening of the arteries at those tender age

Hardening of the arteries, as we have inferred earlier, is due to many factors that eventually result in severe obstructions of the coronary arteries and finally leading to a heart attack. When we eat foods high in cholesterol (red meat, eggs, dairy products, etc), and/or smoke cigarettes, maintain an inactive lifestyle (with no exercise except for walking to the refrigerator and flicking the TV remote control from a couch, while munching on some junk food), and are unable to cope up with stress, our blood thickens, and thickens, and thickens. Eventually the blood becomes so thick it calcifies into bone-like consistency on the walls of the arteries, obstructing the vital flow of blood to the heart muscles, depriving the muscles essential oxygen and nutrition.

Patients with chest pains should consult with a physician without delay, at least for a stress test electrocardiogram, especially those who are 40 years old or older. Resting EKG taken with the patient lying down on the table is not very helpful. Stress Test, or even Stress ECHO is, by far, much more reliable diagnostic tool in finding out if significant ischemia (lack of blood) is present, suggesting severe blockages in the coronary artery. To confirm this, a cardiac cathetherization may be needed. This is the "Supreme Court" for the diagnosis of coronary heart disease, which will tell 100%, without any doubt, if there are blockages and how severe they are. It will also reveal how good or bad the ventricular (heart muscle) contraction is and how effectively the heart is working as a pump.

So, what can be done to minimize the chances of developing blockages of the arteries? In any medical condition, prophylaxis (prevention) is the key. To slow down hardening of the artery, we recommend the following strategy, which, mind you, will be effective in saving your life only if heeded with mental honesty, will power and determination.

1. Psych yourself to believe and accept the medical fact that you are a likely potential victim of heart attack, that you are not blessed with an exceptional immunity against this treacherous killer. See your doctor for a regular check-up or management of your health conditions, of any, and a Stress Test if you have any doubt, or if you are 50 and over. Make sure your cholesterol is below 170.

2. Diet should include fish, vegetables, fruits, high-fiber cereals, a multivitamin/minerals pill a day, and intentionally excluding eggs, dairy products and red meat (pork and beef and anything made of these) from your daily diet. Indulging during holidays and occasional parties are allowed, as long as done in moderation. A glass of red wine with dinner is healthy, while regular coffee and cola beverages are not.

3. Additional Vitamin E (400 IU) and Vitamin C (500 mg) a day will be good as antioxidants. If you are 40 or over, ask your physician about taking a mini-dose (81 mgm) of Aspirin, or Baby Aspirin a day to thin your blood a little and slow down hardening of the arteries. Most of the so called anti-oxidants marketed are not really effective. 4. Maintain a normal weight. Lose weight if needed, not by taking diet pills (which could kill) but by cutting down on your food intake until the desired result is achieved by weighing yourself once a week. Keep on eating less until you succeed. Drink a tall glass of ice cold water before each meal to "fool" your stomach and brain. Do not take snacks, except for fresh fruits.

5. Do not smoke. Quit the habit and save money, and your life.

6. Exercise daily. Moderate to brisk walking, depending on your condition, is recommended. Try to achieve a Maximum Heart Rate (220 minus your age) when you exercise. You do not have to jog to derive the cardiovascular benefit of exercise. Brisk walking is as good, if not better. Ballroom dancing is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise. It is also good for social and mental health.

7. As far as your genes are concerned, you could perhaps blame your parents, but medical data reveal that children of parents with coronary heart disease do not necessarily develop the disease, if they live a healthier lifestyle than their parents. Besides, only one out of 50 persons has the genetic predisposition to hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol blood level) and heart attack. It is obvious, therefore, that only one has an excuse to have this health problem, and that the 49 of us simply abuse ourselves to death.

8. Manage your stress with proper time management and some philosophical reaffirmation. Lighten your life with happy moments with your family and friends, listen to relaxing and soothing music, laugh often and make people laugh, sing and be merry, smell the flowers along the way, treat yourself often (not with calories but with healthy things that make you happy), take a vacation with your family and/or friends. In other words, live and savor life!

Take good care of your heart. It is the only one you've got. And don't help it stop!

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.