For some people, drinking even the smallest amount of alcohol carries major risks. For others, research shows moderate consumption may actually offer a degree of protection against heart disease. Researchers continuously are studying the relationship between alcohol consumption and the heart. And, some more recent findings suggest moderate alcohol consumption can offer some protection against heart disease for some people. But determining exactly who might benefit and who might actually be at risk is difficult.
Some of the possible heart-related benefits of moderate alcohol consumption include:
- Raising the "good" HDL cholesterol level
- Lowering blood pressure
- Inhibiting the formation of blood clots, which can be good because it may prevent a heart attack; but, it also could increase the risk of bleeding.
- Helping prevent artery damage caused by the "bad" LDL cholesterol
According to the American Heart Association, moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink is qualified as 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits.
No. Even moderate alcohol consumption is not right for all people. In fact, alcohol consumption can be quite harmful to some. Anyone who has had heart failure, cardiomyopathy, high blood pressure, diabetes, arrhythmia, a family history of cardiac death or stroke, obesity, high triglycerides, or are taking medications should speak to their doctor before consuming alcohol. Also, if you are pregnant or have a history of alcoholism, you should not drink alcohol. Given the potential risks created by drinking alcohol, the American Heart Association cautions people not to start drinking if they do not already drink alcohol.
How alcohol affects cardiovascular risk merits further research. Drinking alcohol in hopes of gaining potential health benefits is not recommended. Instead, talk to your doctor about lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling weight, getting enough exercise and following a healthy diet. There is no scientific proof that drinking an alcoholic beverage can replace these conventional measures.
A heart condition that affects an estimated 2 million Americans, atrial fibrillation (AF) is rapid, irregular electrical activity in the heart's upper chambers.
Normally, your heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat controlled by electric signals that are produced by cells within the heart. In atrial fibrillation, part of the heart beats irregularly and too fast, causing your body to not receive the proper amount of oxygen.
AF can occur in otherwise healthy people with no known heart disease, and is most often detected during stress or exercise. AF also shows up in people who've had coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease, an inflamed heart muscle or lining, or who recently have had heart surgery. People with atherosclerosis (arteries lined with fatty deposits) and angina (chest pain) sometimes have it, and it also has been linked to congenital heart defects.
AF sometimes appears in people with chronic lung disease, pulmonary blood clots, emphysema and asthma. Other factors that affect risk for AF are thyroid disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking-some of which are modifiable.
AF can lead to other heart rhythm problems, chronic fatigue, heart failure and stroke. If AF is left untreated, the overactive heart muscle can weaken and stretch, making it harder for the heart's upper chambers to contract properly. Not only does this increase your risk of stroke, it also can lead to congestive heart failure.
See list below:
- Irregular heart beat,
- Heart palpitation or rapid thumping inside the chest,
- Dizziness, sweating and chest pain or pressure,
- Shortness of breath, and
- Tiring more easily when exercising.
AF most commonly is diagnosed with the help of an electrocardiogram, which allows the physician to see if your heart's electric signals are normal.
Once diagnosed, AF traditionally is treated by medication to prevent blood clots. In some cases, surgery may be required or electric shock is used to change the beat of your heart. There is no known cure for AF, therefore the goals of treatment are to prevent blood clots from forming, control your heart rate within a relatively normal range, and restore a normal heart rhythm, if possible.
Coronary artery disease is caused by atherosclerosis, the buildup of a hard, waxy substance called plaque inside your arteries. Over time, this buildup can cause narrowing inside your arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart. In some cases, pieces of plaque may break off and completely block an artery or cause an artery to clot off.
Bypass surgery creates a detour around the blocked artery and forms an alternate route for blood to flow to the heart.
A piece of blood vessel is taken from somewhere else in the body and then reattached below the narrowed or blocked section of the diseased coronary artery. The earliest techniques used the saphenous veins found along the inside of the legs. Then, surgeons began using the internal mammary artery behind the left ribcage. The left internal mammary still is used more than 95 percent of the time because the mammary artery already is attached to a large artery on one end, leaving only one end of the artery to be detached and then grafted to a coronary artery.
Over the past five to six years, cardiovascular surgeons also have been using the radial artery found in the forearm. They often start with the radial artery in the patient's nondominant arm and should another artery be needed, they then may use the right internal mammary artery in addition to the left internal mammary artery. This combination has proven to help people live longer.
Simply put, when bypass surgery is performed:
- The patient is put to sleep with general anesthesia.
- The surgeon exposes the heart surgically.
- The surgeon harvests a piece of healthy blood vessel from the chest, arm or leg.
- Connection to a heart-lung bypass machine allows the surgeon to stop the heartbeat while he or she works on the arteries. Or, the surgeon may use newer stabilizing devices to do the bypass on the beating heart.
- The surgeon uses the harvested blood vessel to create bypass grafts around the narrowed or blocked parts of the arteries.
- The surgeon then allows flow through the bypasses and closes the incisions.
- The patient wakes up once the anesthesia wears off.
Bypass surgery is a detailed procedure that varies in length depending on the complexity of each patient's problem. Recovery involves four to seven days in the hospital, and then anywhere from three to 12 weeks of rehabilitation as the patient returns to his or her prior activities. There are no long-term restrictions and exercise, especially in the form of cardiac rehabilitation, is encouraged.
According to the American Heart Association, increased physical activity has been associated with increased life expectancy and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Children who exercise regularly improve their cardiovascular health, strengthen their heart muscles and maintain better endurance in sports. How often should children exercise?
To reap benefits, children ages 2 and older should participate in at least 30 minutes of enjoyable, moderate-intensity activities every day. They also should perform at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activities -such as horseplay, dancing, biking and swimming-a minimum of three to four days a week. This large-muscle movement at a rapid rate helps achieve and maintain a good level of heart and lung fitness.
Children who exercise may experience:
- Lungs that stay healthier longer;
- Less depression and stress;
- Reduced blood pressure;
- Raised HDL ("good") cholesterol;
- An increase in the burning of calories;
- A decreased risk of type I and type II diabetes; and
- More self- confidence and self-esteem.
Any form of physical activity that is regular, enjoyable and sustainable will help your child embrace exercise. The goal is to teach them to enjoy exercise while they are young so they may develop lifelong passions for activities that will keep their hearts and bodies in the best health possible.
With some 30 percent of American children and adolescents overweight-and half of them obese-obesity is an epidemic that is linked to lifestyle. Children are less active, do not get enough regular exercise and have unhealthy diets.
The earlier the body is exposed to such conditions, the greater the potential for organ injury and long-term health problems. Obese children are increasingly developing traditional adult diseases, such as hypertension. Historically children have experienced hypertension as a secondary condition due to kidney problems, but now it's a primary one.
Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is an extremely aggressive condition that can lead to secondary organ damage targeting the eyes, heart, brain and kidneys.
Parents and caregivers must teach healthy eating and exercise habits to their children when they are young. Healthy eating can be implemented by planning meals containing whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and eliminating fast food, sugary snacks and drinks. It also is important to control portions and to not use food as a reward, or lack of food as a punishment.
Encourage daily aerobic activity by taking a family walk after dinner, playing sports together, and assigning active household or yard chores. Limiting the amount of time your children spend in front the television or computer also is essential.
Older adults benefit from regular exercise just as much as younger folks. Regular exercise slows, even reverses, the effects of aging, benefiting you physically and psychologically. It builds strength, endurance and self-esteem, and reduces stress.
Benefits include lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, higher good (HDL) cholesterol, higher bone density, weight loss or maintenance, controlled diabetes and lowered risk of osteoporosis.
It's important to adjust before summer begins. Exercise in the early morning or evening, as these will be the coolest, most comfortable times of day.
Wear loose, light-colored clothing, a protective hat or visor, sunscreen and supportive shoes. Avoid long, thick pants or stockings. Do not wear dark-colored fabric, which absorbs more heat.
Dehydration can be a serious problem, so make sure you are hydrated throughout your day. While exercising, pay attention to signs of fatigue, such as dizziness, headaches, cramps or thirst. If you are thirsty, this is a sign that you already are dehydrated. Have a bottle of water handy while exercising.
Try walking in malls, which are safe, flat and climate-controlled. Or consider exercise programs and classes at your local gym, community center or hospital.
Palmetto Health's Healthy Aging Program Initiative (HAPI) offers a variety of group classes for all ages and ability levels, on land and in water. Classes are offered in an ongoing, four-week long series. For more information, call 296-2273 or visit www.palmettohealth.org.
The risk of coronary heart disease rises as blood cholesterol levels increase. When other risk factors are present, this risk increases even more.
Cholesterol is a necessary component of our bodies, but additional dietary cholesterol is not needed. Excess cholesterol in the blood stream can form a thick, hard deposit called plaque in the artery walls. This build-up causes arteries to become thicker, harder and less flexible. When blood flow is restricted, chest pain called angina can result. When blood flow to the heart is severely restricted and a clot stops the flow completely, a heart attack results.
Medical experts recommend that total cholesterol levels be less than 200 mg/dL in order for an individual to be at lower risk for heart disease. Borderline high cholesterol is 200 to 239 mg/dL; high blood cholesterol is 240 mg/dL and above. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of heart disease as someone whose cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL.
About one-fourth to one-third of blood cholesterol is carried by high density lipoprotien (HDL). Often called the "good" cholesterol, high levels of HDL seem to protect against heart attack because it carries cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is passed from the body. Optimal HDL levels are 40 mg/dL and higher.
When too much low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the artery walls that feed the heart and brain. Together with other substances, it can form artery-clogging plaque that can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke. LDL cholesterol of less than 130 mg/dL is the optimal level for most people.
High cholesterol levels that go untreated or unmanaged increase one's risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), which is the leading cause of death in both men and women over 65 years old and can cause long-term disability. Cholesterol treatment in high-risk individuals who are 65-80 years old is beneficial and reduces the likelihood of a heart attack or other coronary heart disease event.
You are considered high-risk if you have known CHD: you have had a heart attack, angioplasty, bypass operation, abnormal stress test, other diagnosis of atherosclerosis or you have diabetes mellitus.
You still are at high-risk, if your cholesterol level is high and you have one other major risk factor, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or smoking.
To lower your cholesterol, live a heart-healthy lifestyle. Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and limit fatty foods. Exercise regularly, avoid smoking, control high blood pressure, manage your diabetes and maintain a healthy weight. Your doctor also may recommend cholesterol-lowering drugs.
A healthy range for total cholesterol is less than 170 mg/dL and an LDL cholesterol of less than 100, or less than 70 mg/dL if you are in the high-risk category.
A clinical trial is a study done with humans. The trials are designed to answer very specific questions, such as the impact of a new treatment or diagnostic test on a patient. They result in concrete information to add to the body of knowledge that exists in a particular area. They determine if something works or not. Once a drug or diagnostic treatment is approved through a clinical trial, it may take months or years before it becomes part of the standard of care.