Heart Health Facts

These series of articles will focus primarily on heart health for men, women, and children.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

There are several warning signs to indicate that one is having a heart attack. Moreover, the signs may be different for men and women.

Understanding the warning signs is critical in getting help quickly. What are the heart attack warning signs?

It may begin with discomfort in the chest such as pressure or pain. One may also experience pain in the back, jaw, stomach, or in one or both arms. The heart attack may cause shortness of breath or perhaps sweating, dizziness, and nausea. These symptoms usually occur in men.

In women, while chest pain is one signal, shortness of breath, back or jaw pain, and nausea accompanied by vomiting may also be clear warning signs they are having a heart attack.

Unfortunately, in some individuals, the symptoms may appear and then disappear suddenly. The pain may be attributed to indigestion or heartburn. Some may even think the pain is caused by undue stress.

In addition, there are other signals that may be altogether different from one person to another. Although chest pain is the common denominating factor, there may be other signs including profuse sweating, a feeling of fatigue, stomach pain, headache or toothache.

But the most alarming statistic is that some heart attacks are silent - that is, there are no symptoms that are generally associated with a heart attack and the individual may feel fine one moment and go into cardiac arrest the next. This is considered the most serious type of heart attack.

Heart attacks can be life-threatening and therefore it is vital for anyone who displays any of these symptoms to seek emergency care immediately. This cannot be stressed enough. There have been cases where a person with one or more of these symptoms, albeit mild in nature, goes to the hospital and has a heart attack as he or she is being tested.

If you or a family member complains about chest pain or shows any of the aforementioned signs, take them to the hospital and/or call for assistance immediately. The longer one waits, the higher the chances of permanent damage to the heart.

Congenital Cardiovascular Defect

A congenital cardiovascular defect may occur prior to birth. It means that either the heart or blood vessels near the heart have not fully developed. Thus, there is a distinguishable difference between a cardiovascular defect and cardiovascular disease.

Statistics show that the more common defects that occur among newborns are atrioventricular septal defects, coarctation of the aorta, tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the arteries, ventricular defects, and hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

The most common among the aforementioned defects occurs when a hole in the heart appears in the wall that separates both sides of the heart. This is known as a septal defect.

While the appearance of a defect affects only one percent of newborns, scientists and researchers cannot pinpoint the exact cause. Although some experts have determined that viral diseases, alcohol, and some prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs may contribute to this defect, there are no definitive answers.

In addition, cardiovascular defects may appear in the form of obstructions, commonly referred to as stenosis. These may include pulmonary stenosis, aortic stenosis, coarctation of the aorta, bicuspid aortic valve, subaortic stenosis, and Ebstein's anomaly.

Cyanotic defects occur when there isn’t enough oxygen in the blood. Cyanotic defects may include tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great arteries, tricuspid atresia, pulmonary atresia, truncus arteriosus, and total anomalous pulmonary venous.

If a newborn has a hole in the heart, and depending upon its size, surgery may be required. For example, if the hole is small and it does not cause any undue damage to the heart, a heart murmur may be the only resulting abnormality.

However, if the hole is large then surgery would result when the baby is a little older (around nine months of age). The surgery would not only repair the defect, but bring about normal blood flow to the heart. The child would need regular check-ups throughout his or her lifespan, and the prognosis is better than good.

Today, babies who are born with heart defects have a greater chance of surviving and living a normal life than ever before. Due to diagnostic and surgical advances, most of the defects that occur can be repaired. Research is on-going to address other types of congenital cardiovascular defects as well.

How Can I Tell If My Baby or My Child Has a Heart Defect?

In cases where the cardiovascular defect is septal - that is, there is a small or large hole in the heart, a heart defect is usually determined upon the birth of the child.

Depending upon the defect, other symptoms may occur early or, in some cases, may not appear until later in life. However, if the flow of blood to the heart is dramatically reduced, the symptoms will reveal themselves earlier.

For example, a baby born with a hole in her heart may exhibit blue lips, tips of fingers, or skin. This often occurs when the baby cries or becomes fatigued. Other symptoms may include the inability to gain weight, rapid breathing, poor circulation, or being less active than normal.

In older children, symptoms may include tiring more frequently (especially after intense activity), and exhibiting shortness of breath.

Although a doctor may discover a heart murmur, it should be noted that not all heart murmurs are a direct result of a heart defect. In fact, many children have heart murmurs and are perfectly healthy.

However, the doctor may wish to rule out any problems by ordering tests to determine the cause. One test is called an echocardiogram in which the doctor can examine the heart via ultrasound. Another test that may be performed is a catheterization procedure. Pictures are taken of the heart through the injection of dye into the blood vessels.

If your infant or child is diagnosed with a cardiovascular defect, you will be referred to a children’s cardiologist who will determine if an operation is needed. The key, of course, is ascertaining the type of defect that has affected your child’s heart through a series of tests.

Since there are many different types of congenital cardiovascular defects, it is a good idea to research the specific defect as determined by the doctor and read about the tests your child may have to undergo as well as any surgical procedures that may be required.

Keep in mind that only 1% of babies born today have a heart defect. The prognosis for most of these conditions is very good due to the many advances made in cardiovascular research.

How to Heart Health for our Children

Two major components to ensure that children maintain heart health are diet and exercise.

With obesity now a pandemic in our society, the need to increase physical activity and develop healthy eating patterns is essential.

We all know the benefits of exercise. It can help to control weight, increase the good cholesterol, and reduce blood pressure as well as the risk of diabetes and other illnesses. It can also offer an inner balance and psychological well-being that instills confidence and self-esteem among children.

The American Heart Association offers a myriad of recommendations both for physical exercise and eating habits that can improve heart health.

They recommend that children should engage in 30 minutes of exercise a day. This can be attained by using the entire 30 minutes of playful activity, or dividing the time into two or three periods in which the total 30 minutes is achieved.

In this day and age of fast food restaurants and on-the-go snacks, it is also important to present a diet regimen that is healthy, targeted, and provides the nutritional value children need to grow into healthy adults.

A diet low in sodium and trans fats is recommended as well as balanced meals including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, and protein. Low-fat and/or fat-free dairy products are also recommended for heart health.

The total recommended calories consumed depend largely on the age of the child. For example, for very young children it is advised that 900 calories per day is sufficient. For teens, it is estimated that 1800 calories for girls and 2200 calories for boys is quite sufficient.

But the main factor in children’s heart health is to refrain from over-eating. This means time spent watching TV or playing video games can only contribute to a sedentary lifestyle later on.

Young children are nearly always on the go, and this is a good thing. However, as children mature and grow into their pre-teen and teen years, their level of activity may slow down.

Thus, any activity that the entire family can engage in will not only keep the children active, but will act as a preventative measure in avoiding any future health problems for all concerned.

Five Ways to Create Heart Health Habits

At a time when obesity affects both adults and children, there are many ways to prevent this outcome by creating heart health habits early on.

Here are five suggestions:

1. Children learn from their parents. If we, as parents, practice a daily ritual of exercise and good nutrition, the children will follow our lead. Thus, being a good role model for our children is essential.

2. Family activities can help to increase physical activity. This could be engaging in a daily routine of walking, or spending at lest thirty minutes a day playing in the back yard, or teaching our children to swim. Whatever we do, physical activity is a beneficial and preventative measure that will serve to maintain not only heart health, but that of our children.

3. With video games and computers becoming the source of many hours spent idle, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of time spent on these activities. Moreover, this will also prevent children from excessively consuming snacks while engaged in these activities.

4. Children who do have a problem with their weight need encouragement. Developing a positive self-image increases the child’s self-esteem and may lead to their own determination and discovery that physical exercise and diet is a path well chosen.

5. While we all love snacks, having too many around the home encourages children to choose these unhealthy foods instead of grabbing an apple or other nutritious snacks. There are plenty of snack recipes online that are healthy and nutritious. Moreover, having the children help with the preparation will give them more incentive to consume the snack since they played a role in preparing it.

Obesity has become a pandemic in our society and has led to many illnesses and diseases such as diabetes and cancer. As parents, our role is to ensure that our children lead healthy lives. This includes safeguarding their physical, mental, and emotional well-being as well as promoting heart health.

Needless to say, exercise and a proper diet are conducive to a healthy lifestyle as well as a healthy heart. Heart health habits, when properly incorporated at the outset, is a preventative measure to ensure the health of the entire family is maintained.

Five Heart Health Foods

So often we hear news reports that one type of food is bad for us only to find out years later that it is not bad at all. Exercise and diet are important elements in maintaining a healthy heart. With so many diet plans available today, it may be confusing to ascertain what foods are more targeted towards a heart health.

Here are five heart health foods that have been touted for decreasing cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body.

Leafy green vegetables: Broccoli, spinach, kale, escarole and others are very high in vitamins, minerals, and iron. One serving of vegetables a day can dramatically reduce the incidence of heart disease and maintain heart health.

Fruits: Among the most popular are blueberries. Known for its antioxidants (which are crucial in destroying free radicals in the body), blueberries are the number one fruit most recommended. It contains fiber and vitamin C. More importantly, it has been suggested that blueberries are also a brain food – that memory may be increased by having one serving of this fruit every day.

Fish: Omega-3 fatty acids are contained in many types of fish. Salmon is one of them. It is not only heart friendly, but it is high in protein which renders many health benefits. A serving of fish at least two times a week can go a long way to improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Soy: This product, whether it is taken as a supplement or is in the foods you consume, is high on the list for providing fiber, vitamins, minerals, and polyunsaturated fats. Studies show that soy can reduce triglycerides (fat content) and reduce cholesterol.

Grain: While we know that whole grain foods contribute to a decrease in cholesterol levels, it is also a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whether you consume a daily helping of oatmeal or whole grain cereal – this food group is known for reducing the risk of heart disease.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention legumes. Our parents may have grown up on a diet of beans and escarole, and this simple and easy-to-prepare dinner was the source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and cholesterol-lowering agents.

Foods to Limit or Avoid for Heart Health

Keeping one’s good cholesterol high and bad cholesterol and triglycerides low is a daily process. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, and low fats are essential to heart health.

But there are foods that are best avoided in order to achieve heart health: They are:

Fast Foods: It is easy to understand why these foods contribute to high cholesterol levels. They contain high levels of saturated fats and trans fats. Trans fats are the most egregious since they contain hydrogenated oils. Moreover, they have been found to lower the HDL (good cholesterol) in the body.

Oils: While pure olive and canola are known to have substantial heart-healthy benefits, their counterparts – coconut and corn oil, are full of saturated fats. They are utilized in most fast food restaurants, as well as for home cooking. These are best avoided as they help increase the risk of heart disease.

Dairy: We know that saturated fats increase the LDL levels. Whole milk as well as other dairy products contain these saturated fats and have the same effect. In lieu of these products, it is highly recommended that 1% milk, skim milk, and low-fat dairy products are used to avoid high cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

Meats: One of the most interesting statistics that came out during this economic depression is that of all the companies that are losing profits, a well-known fast food restaurant has increased its profit substantially. Meats such as hamburgers, bacon, and other packaged or deli meats contain high amounts of saturated fats. Substituting these meats with turkey burgers, turkey sausage, and other lean meat products can make all the difference in reducing cholesterol level and provide less risk to the heart.

Trans Fats: This is probably the most serious offender as regards cholesterol and heart disease. In fact, efforts are under way by manufacturers to eliminate this fat from their baked goods. However, not everyone has followed this lead and it is necessary, therefore, to check the label before you purchase particular products. These would include cookies, cakes, butter, and other food products that contain some form of fat content.

Fish: Heart Health and Brain Food

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish such as tuna, salmon, trout, cod, and others. Omega 3 greatly helps control cholesterol levels and contributes to heart health.

Two servings of fish per week can reduce blood pressure, decrease risks associated with heart disease, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and increase brain function.

Two of the fatty acids contained in Omega 3 are EPA and DHA, both of which are oils made of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. When combined with ALA found in certain types of fish that have the highest levels of these fats, they help prevent plaque from clogging the arteries. Thus, they help decrease the risk of heart disease and improve heart health.

But the heart isn’t the only organ that benefits from the Omega 3 found in fish. Research suggests that patients with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of DHA. Since DHA and EPA improve cognitive function, studies have found that individuals with high levels of these fatty acids show significant improvement in memory.

It is important to note that since the brain has high concentrates of these fatty acids, the lack of DHA may contribute to poor memory as well as behavioral problems.

Furthermore, since DHA is an important component for brain development, there is new evidence that asserts that consuming certain types of fish will significantly increases brain growth in fetuses. In addition, it was found that new mothers who ate these types of fish had a significant level of DHA in their blood at the time of delivery and that their babies’ attention span was well advanced.

We all know that high cholesterol and triglyceride levels can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies are on-going to determine the full range of effects that Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish have on the brain as well.

There are several studies that have concluded that Omega 3 may help individuals with bipolar disorders and ADHD. However, this is just the beginning in determining what significant role fish and its fatty acids play in reducing the factors associated with these and many other conditions and diseases.