Matters of the heart - Cardiologist urges persons to fight heart disease with lifestyle changes
The month of February is recognised as Heart Month and highlights issues that associate with one of the most hard-working organs in the body.
Cardiologist Dr Mark Hoo Sang said there has been a rapid increase in the number of persons affected by cardiovascular disease, the cause of which can be chalked up to two factors: age and hypertension.
“The leading cause is probably age, but there is not much that we can do about that, but in terms of modifiable risk factors, hypertension is definitely number one,” Dr Hoo Sang said. “Hypertension is driving a large part of the burden of cardiovascular disease and mainly things like heart failure, heart attacks, and if you want to throw in strokes as part of the vascular component, then that, too.”
The good news is knowing that hypertension is a risk factor in heart disease, there are ways to control and combat it, and this includes making lifestyle changes that often put us at risk.
“There are a number of factors that you can prevent and there are a number of factors that you can’t. So remember I said that age is probably the number one factor, but until someone finds the fountain of youth, we are kind of stuck with where we are,” Dr Hoo Sang stated. “But in terms of things that we can do to fight it we have to look at the modifiable risk factors which contribute to having heart disease; hypertension being the main one, but there are other things, including smoking, diabetes control, addressing high cholesterol and a lot of lifestyle changes because a lot of these chronic diseases are lifestyle-related.”
In other words, diet and exercise play a huge role in avoiding hypertension and subsequent heart disease. It must be noted, however, that diet includes taking careful notice of the types of food that are ingested.
“A lot of the foods that we take in are really poisoning us because most of our foods are processed, and what we have seen is that a lot of the processed foods produce more insulin, and insulin is related to weight gain,” he informed. “The world has got fatter and with that the prevalence of heart disease has increased. So things like flour and rice, which are processed foods, produce a lot of insulin secretions, unlike sweet potato or yam, which give the same amount of energy. But it’s how your body consumes and process the two that is different in terms of insulin secretion.”
He did point out also that the processed foods are more accessible, but the general principle is to try as best as we can to eat unprocessed foods.
There is also the issue of heart disease being hereditary, and this is usually harder to fight. Dr Hoo Sang explained why he thinks a disease such as this could be hereditary.
“Some people can be hereditary and we see people who have first-degree relatives (mother, father, sister and so on) who have suffered from heart disease at an early age, for example, a man less than 55 years old or a woman less than 65 years old would be considered early,” he explained. “The reason for that is probably multifactorial, but there is definitely something about these people in the family that puts them all at risk. Maybe it’s because they are diabetic or maybe it’s because of the type of cholesterol that their body produces, which is deposited in the actual vessels contributing to plaque, or their might be something that causes them to have more inflammation in the vessels,” he noted.
Dr Hoo Sang said for those who are considered high risk, they have to focus on things that they can control, like keeping their hypertension under control; however, there are those people who do not know that they are hypertensive and that in itself can be dangerous.
“Hypertension is also called the silent killer, so a lot of people have hypertension and they don’t feel any way, but they might go to the doctor when they have a headache and that’s when they find out,” said Dr Hoo Sang. “Someone who goes to the doctor regularly for well visits is more likely to find out earlier if they have a chronic disease and, therefore, and intervention can be done earlier preventing damage or something worse like heart disease.”
He recommends, however, that intervention be taken from childhood by developing healthy habits that will help to prevent or delay these chronic issues.
The Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) is raising awareness of the impact of uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure) on not just the heart, but also the untold damage to kidneys. According to the HFJ, high blood pressure is the leading cause of persons requiring renal dialysis in Jamaica.
The HFJ said the kidneys help filter waste and extra fluids from blood, via the blood vessels. Over time, uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause arteries around the kidneys to narrow, weaken, or harden. The foundation says 31.5 per cent of Jamaicans have high blood pressure. Unfortunately, one of the long-term consequences is kidney failure.