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Heart Disease

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In essence a heart attack is an ischemic event in which the blood supply to the heart organ is cut off (in the case of a stroke it’s the brain’s blood supply that is blocked). The leading cause of heart disease is something known as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Cholesterol build-up is one way of blocking up an artery but not everyone with high cholesterol will suffer a blocked artery.

The major RISK FACTORS for heart disease, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, include:

Alcohol consumption

Moderate consumption. This may have a positive effect and protect against heart disease. Reasonable amounts of alcohol may

Increase HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.

Have an anti-clotting effect on blood.

This protective effect is greatest in men over 40 and post-menopausal women as they are the highest risk groups. There is little protective effect in younger people as they are generally not at high risk for heart disease.

Excessive consumption. Drinking too much alcohol increases health dangers, including high blood pressure, heart failure and increased levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood. Binge drinking can lead to a stroke.

Other serious effects are heart muscle damage, heart rhythm disturbances and sudden cardiac death. It may also contribute to the development of obesity, diabetes and liver disease.

Smoking

Smoking causes Heart Disease by:

· Increasing blood pressure

· Increasing blood clotting

· Increasing carbon monoxide levels and reducing oxygen levels

Overweight

Carrying excess weight simply puts strain on the heart that has to work harder to pump blood around the body. It also increases the risk for hypertension and diabetes.

Stress

There is a direct link between heart disease and stress although the exact mechanisms are largely unknown

Lack of Exercise

A lack of physical exercise is a risk factor for both heart disease and high blood pressure. In comparison to those who exercise regularly, inactive people have twice the risk of suffering a heart attack and three times the chance of dying immediately after such an attack.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatty substance in the blood that plays an important role in our cells and hormones. The liver produces all the cholesterol the body needs, but is encouraged to produce excess amounts by the fat (particularly saturated fat in meat/dairy products) that we eat.

A high blood cholesterol level is seen as dangerous to our health because excess amounts are deposited on the inside of arteries, eventually blocking blood flow to the heart.

Hypertension

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood in your arteries that is needed to keep blood flowing through your body. High blood pressure develops if the walls of the larger arteries lose their natural elasticity and become rigid, and the smaller blood vessels become narrower. High blood pressure can also force cholesterol and plaque into the artery walls

Diabetes

Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths because the constant high blood sugar is associated with narrowing of the arteries, increased blood triglycerides (a type of fat), decreased levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart attack.

Genetics

Some people are more prone to heart disease (or heart disease risk factors) because of genetic predisposition. A family history of heart disease is the first clue towards a genetic predisposition.

Heart disease is the leading cause of diabetes-related deaths because the constant high blood sugar is associated with narrowing of the arteries, increased blood triglycerides (a type of fat), decreased levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart attack.

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