The heart of the matter
The choices you make today will impact your life tomorrow. This is especially true when it comes to taking care of your heart.
Heart disease is a big killer worldwide, and in Barbados, the latest data produced from July 2009 to December 2010 on this chronic condition shows a steady rise in the number of patients being admitted to hospital with heart attacks and strokes.
“We had 529 heart attacks on the island, and that works out to be 352 heart attacks per year, which works out to be about 29 heart attacks a month, or about seven per week. So what we usually say is that every day there is at least one person on the island who gets a heart attack, and for strokes it is actually two persons.
“So actually, one day you get about one heart attack and two strokes,” reports Tanya Martelly, the registrar of the Barbados National Registry.
The issue came in to sharp focus recently as the Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP) held a seminar to educate its members on the “keys to a healthy heart”
The experts warned that heart disease does not develop overnight. It’s a silent killer that results from smoking, lack of exercise, uncontrolled blood pressure and high salt intake, among other factors.
Chief executive officer of the Heart & Stroke Foundation, Gina Pitts, used her presentation to persuade the retirees to take high blood pressure seriously.
In Barbados, about half of the elderly, people over the age of 65 are hypertensive. That represents one in two persons.
Pitts warned that hypertension was a matter of life or death.
“You can have a heart attack. We deal with patients every single day who have heart attacks and survive. We’ve had patients who walked in off the streets for an ECG and had a heart attack.
“You can have angina pectoris, which is just a narrowing of the artery coming from your heart. You can actually have sudden death; you can also have a condition called heart failure.”
She advised the retirees to get their blood pressure checked regularly, as she outlined how blood pressure was measured.
“The top figure is measuring the pressure that the heart is under when the four chambers of the heart expel the blood into the main artery. That’s important because that is always going to be a higher value than the bottom value, because it takes a lot to push that blood around into the circulation. The bottom figure is measuring the amount of pressure around the heart while the four chambers are filling up with blood.”
Pitts put ideal blood pressure at 120 for the top figure, while the bottom figure is anything below 90.
People who exceed the 120 to 140 are deemed pre-hypertensive, while those over 140 are hypertensive.
A major risk factor for hypertension is salt. Pitts insisted that Barbadians consumed too much salt without even knowing.
“If you eat any processed food –– something that doesn’t come out of the ground or something that you have not killed yourself –– you don’t know what you are eating. Even if you go to any supermarket and there’s something on the shelf that you don’t know anything about, you don’t know
what’s in it.
“I know we like salt fish, our salt bread. We’re very brazen about salt, we put it upfront.”
Stress is also a major risk factor for hypertension, which is always underestimated.
Stress management consultant Dr Alexine Jackman warned that in today’s modern world, stress was rising and constant, as many people struggled to cope with the daily pressures of life.
“Under stress, the walls of the blood vessels constrict. The other thing you are going to find is that your body retains sodium and water . . . . So the thing about it is, even if you are eating that low-sodium diet, if you are under stress, your body is going to hang on to as much salt as it can.
“The other thing is that when you are under stress, cholesterol goes up and with that cholesterol circulating in the blood vessels, you’re at risk of plaques building on the blood vessel wall. And if those plaques get big enough, they can travel or they can block the flow in the blood vessel. And then put you at risk for a stroke, or heart attack.”
Dr Jordan advised the retirees not to ignore the warning signs, and to put in place coping mechanisms to manage stress, including being more aware of what causes stress, getting adequate sleep and rest, and monitoring their thoughts.
“Stress is not something that you have to suffer through; and each and everyone of us has that ability to manage stress.”