Kara Gerritsen – The Risk of Heart Disease and Life after a heart attack
The Heart Foundation strives to reduce heart attacks. There is one heart attack every 10 minutes in Australia and heart disease is the biggest single killer. The message of the Foundation is about how to prevent heart disease and how to manage after heart attacks.
Early signs of disease have been found in children as young.as 15 or 16 and many men show signs in their early 30’s. Kara told us that the factors contributing to heart disease are grouped thus: Lifestyle, Biomedical and Psychological. Factors that contribute fall into two main categories,: those we can control and those we cannot.
We cannot control gender, age or genetics but we can control smoking, diet, weight and alcohol consumption. Most biomedical issues were invisible; e.g.. Cholesterol. Depression, social isolation and a lack of quality social support are also contributing factors.
One cause of heart attacks was atherosclerosis which is the build up of fatty plaque. This constricts the arteries and, in particular the coronary arteries which supply the heart itself with blood and nutrients. Early signs include Angina which is not the same as a heart attack but could be an early warning. Sometimes, a lump of plaque chips off and the body’s immune response causes blood clots to form which, again, constricts blood flow to the heart muscle and leads to a heart attack. With good lifestyles, heart attacks may be 80% preventable.
There are a large number of tests that doctors have available: Blood tests reveal a particular chemical in at risk patients; Electrocardiograms (ECG) check for irregular electrical pulses under stress testing; Echocardiograms see how well the heart is working; angiograms use a special dye to test whilst X-rays are also useful.
After a heart attack, it is vital to undergo cardiac rehabilitation—an important part of recovery. This covers physical, sexual, emotional and psychological changes and dietary advice and involves the patient, family, friends and carers. Rehabilitation can be carried out anywhere – home, hospital or community centre and can also be done over the phone or internet. Health disease is a chronic condition but can be managed for a healthy life.