Heart Health Awareness Month
Author: Kaylee Dunbar Date Posted:23 February 2016
Our heart is one of the most important muscles in our body because it pumps blood to our vital organs and body tissues. In fact our heart beats approximately 100, 000 times per day so it is extremely important to keep your heart healthy! February is heart health awareness month and we would like to bring to your attention how important it is to have regular heart health checks.
The Australian Heart Foundation recommends that individuals over the age of 45 should go for regular checks.This is to ensure that heart disease can be identified early and the appropriate treatment can be administered as soon as a problem is identified. This is extremely important because heart disease can be asymptomatic initially but once an individual starts to display symptoms of cardiovascular disease it can often have progressed into a more serious disease state.
So let’s take a look at what is involved in a heart health check,what cardiovascular disease is, what the risk factors are and last but not least what we can do to keep our heart healthy!
So what happens at a heart health check?
Your doctor will perform appropriate diagnostic testing to investigate your cardiovascular health.
Let’s take a closer look at what tests they may use and why:
- Blood pressure reading - If required your doctor may also request that a blood pressure monitor be worn for a 24 hour time period. This provides additional information about your blood pressure.
- Cholesterol testing - Total cholesterol, triglycerides, Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (good cholesterol). Cholesterol testing provides information about your risk for the development of cardiovascular diseases.
- Fasting blood glucose testing - Individuals diagnosed with diabetes often have higher levels of Low density lipoprotein (LDL) present in the blood stream which can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease.
- Angiogram testing - A catheter is placed inside the arteries of the groin, arm, or wrist and moved upwards until it reaches the heart. This indicates if the coronary arteries are blocked or narrowed. Alternatively an x-ray of the coronary arteries may be taken by injecting dye into the coronary arteries. These procedures indicate if the coronary arteries are blocked or narrowed and how effectively the heart is pumping blood.
- Coronary Computed Tomography Angiogram (CCTA) - This scan is utilised to give a 3-dimensional imagery of the heart chambers and coronary arteries. This method of testing is used to diagnose coronary artery disease.
- Chest X-ray - Gives an indication about the health of your organs inside the chest cavity such as the heart, lungs and blood vessels. This method of testing can detect early signs of heart problems.
- Echocardiogram (Heart Ultrasound) - A probe that is placed and moved around your chest or put down the oesophagus (throat) which shows how your heart beating. This provides information about how strong your heart is beating and if the heart valves and chambers are working effectively.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) - Probes are placed on the chest, arms and legs and attached to a machine that records the electrical impulses of the heart. This method of testing helps diagnoses heart conditions.
- Stress Tests - This test utilises an ECG while an individual is taking part in exercise, usually on a treadmill. This test determines how your heart performs when you are under physical exertion.
- Electrophysiology Studies - Catheters are inserted through a vein in the leg and then moved upwards to the heart and attached to a machine to measure the heart’s electrical activity and it’s responsiveness to various stimuli. This testing helps to determine if an irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) is present and if so what the cause is.
- Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (CMRI) - A test that involves the use of magnets and radio waves to create either a still or moving picture of your heart. This particular test gives information about how well your heart is functioning. Alternatively dye may be injected to make the heart and arteries more visible.
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions that will provide them with information about your health and potential likelihood for the development of cardiovascular disease. Questions may include:
- Are you taking any pharmaceutical medications?
- Do you have a family history of cardiovascular disease?
- Lifestyle questions- Do you follow a healthy diet? Do you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? Do you exercise?
- Do you experience heart palpitations?
- Do you have a good social life and support network?
What is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular disease is a broad term that is used to describe diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
So what are the risk factors for the development of heart disease?
- Our risk increases as we age.
- Men have a higher risk factor but women experience an increased risk factor post menopause.
- Your ethnic background- particularly those from the Indian sub-continent.
- Family history of cardiovascular disease.
- If you smoke.
- Having high cholesterol.
- Having high blood pressure.
- If you have diabetes.
- Being inactive.
- Being overweight.
- Having an unhealthy diet.
- Suffering from depression and isolation.
So how can we keep our heart healthy?
- Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables of a variety of different colours every day. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and of course antioxidants! These nutrients help to maintain the health of the cardiovascular system by reducing inflammation and toxins. The Australian Heart Foundation recommends you consume 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily.
- Stay hydrated- Drink a minimum of 1.5 litres of water daily.
- Eat a handful of nuts every day - Nuts contain many valuable nutrients that support cardiovascular health such as:
- Good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsatured).
- Plant sterols and fibre that help to minimise the re-absorption of cholesterol from the digestive system.
- Arginine to help promote the elasticity of the blood vessels. And they contain valuable vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavonoids that reduce oxidation and systemic inflammation
- Include lean meats such as skinless chicken, fish, lamb, lean beef, kangaroo and lamb in your diet to minimise saturated fat intake.
- Replace saturated and trans fats in your diet with good quality fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsatured fats. Foods that contain these good fats include oily fish, lean poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oil.
- Keep junk food intake to a minimum. This includes processed foods, fast food, potato chips, and lollies. These foods generally contain limited nutrients and are high in both sodium and refined sugars.
- Avoid or reduce the intake of soft drinks, cordial and energy drinks which contain large amounts of refined sugars and caffeine.
- Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum. The National health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommend that men and women consume no more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks per day.
- Stay social- Individuals who are socially isolated have an increased incidence for the development of cardiovascular disease.
- Take care of your mental wellbeing- Individuals who are depressed also have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Manage any cardiovascular conditions that you may have pre-existing accordingly; this includes blood pressure problems (high or low), atrial fibrillation, diabetes or high cholesterol.
- Stop smoking.
- Exercise regularly - Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Reduce your salt intake- To maintain healthy blood pressure.
- See your doctor regularly to have a thorough check up.