Column 24 - Strengthen Your Heart

Original publication date: February 15, 1984

We have been looking at hearts in store displays for weeks now. Well, now the chocolate hearts and candied hearts have been eaten and the store displays will change to display the Easter goodies. Before we rush ahead we should think a lot more about hearts. Our hearts.

Heart and blood vessel disease is the leading cause of death and disability in Canada. It afflicts more than 2,000,000 men, women and children, and kills over 80,000 each year - more than all other causes of death combined.

Most of this damage is caused by four major types of heart disease; rheumatic heart disease (an inflamation of the heart brought on by high fever which usually occurs in children and young adults), congenital defects (defects of the heart at birth), and the most commonly known - atherosclerosis and hyper- tension. Commonly known? It's hard enough to pronounce, never mind understand. But because these heart diseases run rampage through our country, we should at least try to understand what they are and how to prevent or control them.

Atherosclerosis is generally known as "hardening of the arteries". The inner linings of the arteries (the thick-walled tubes which carry blood directly from the heart to the rest of the body) become thickened and roughened by dposits of fat and other cellular debris. When the condition of the arteries worsens, the inner walls become too thick and heavy and lose their ability to expand and contract. The blood moves with difficulity, making it easier for blood clots to form, blocking the channel and depriving the heart, brain or other organs of blood.

If a blockage occurs in one of the heart's own arteries, the result can be a heart attack. Even if a blood clot does not form, the channel may just get too narrow, and may not be able to deliver the sufficient oxygen required during times of excitement, nervousness, or severe physical exertion. The heart rythm is disrupted and a pain in the chest, shoulder, neck or back may occur as a warning.

If a blood clot forms in the brain, or if an artery in the brain bursts, the result could be a stroke. Nerve cells are damaged and the parts of the body controlled by these cells cannot function. Difficulty speaking, walking, or remembering things can result. It may be temporary or permanent with the damage being slight or severe depending on which cells were destroyed and how badly.

Both a heart attack and stroke can be preventable through good eating habits (low fat foods) and regular exercise to encourage good blood circulation.

Hypertension is often thought of as a stress disease - too much work, not enough exercise, bad diet, smoking and thousands of other bad habits we indulge in. The fact is that there is no known cause and there is no cure. Hypertension is a fancy way of saying "high blood pressure".

We all need blood pressure to move the blood through our bodies. It is created by the contractions of the heart muscle which pumps the blood through the vessels in our body, and by the resistance of the heart's outer walls. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to work. If the work is harder than the heart can endure, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure can result. Hypertension can be controlled with medication, good eating habits and regular exercise.

Work on strengthening your heart, and next Valentine's Day, your heart will really be worth giving to that someone special.

Copyright 2021 K.L. McCluskey, all rights reserved.