Heart Disease

In today’s Western form of civilization, heart disease is extremely common. It is generally referred to as coronary heart disease. For a variety of reasons that seem more common in people living in advanced Western countries, the coronary arteries are very prone to gradual destruction. This is usually seen in a build-up in the vessel linings. Increasing amounts of material are laid down internally in the vessels. The vessels become narrower and narrower, and the amount of blood that can flow through them is correspondingly reduced.

This flow of blood becomes so poor in many people that the heart is quite incapable of carrying out its normal duties, and this is evident by the appearance of pain felt over the chest wall in front of the heart.

If sudden demands are made on the heart, such as when exercise is being performed, and the heart is forced to beat more rapidly to convey adequate amounts of oxygenated blood to the tissues, it is unable to do so. Increasingly severe pain is felt. This is the well-known discomfort of angina. This often forces the person to stop what they are doing, and take a rest. The heart action reduces until it can cope, and the pain then disappears as adequate oxygen again reaches the heart tissues, enabling the pain-producing carbon dioxide and metabolites to be carried away. Alternatively, the patient may take a tablet that has the effect of artificially enlarging the coronary blood vessels, so permitting a more rapid blood flow through the heart tissues. The net result is the same.

This is why it is common to see some older people (most often men) carrying a little pillbox around with them at all times. If they have to undertake activity they feel will produce anginal pains, they will slowly suck a tablet under the tongue. This usually contains glyceryl trinitrate. It is rapidly absorbed by the blood from the oral cavity and conveyed to the heart, where it rapidly acts on the vessels, allowing them to dilate, and so increase the blood circulation through the cardiac muscle.

How to Prevent Heart Disease

There are many general measures that the anginal patient can carry out, and which may effectively assist in keeping symptoms at a minimum level.

Avoiding the known precipitating factors will help immeasurably. The patient should make an effort to avoid undue exercise that is known to produce symptoms. Similarly, social and environmental predisposing factors must be avoided.

It is best to avoid circumstances where emotional crises and flaring tempers are involved, for this will only breed more and greater problems if allowed to persist.

It would be best if the patient could adopt a philosophical attitude to life in general, accept the position and make the most of the remaining years of life.

Meals of moderate size and easily digestible food, preferably low fat in content and free from fried foods, are best. If’ there is obvious overweight, sticking to a 4200 kJ (1000-calorie)-a-day diet for a while will help lower the weight and so diminish the risk factors.

Regular sleep often assists. Eight hours a night is preferable. Sometimes, with carp- onset of the symptoms, a period of bed rest may be advisable. Gearing life to meet one’s ability at coping is essential. The same applies to work, with due retard to the social and economic circumstances of the individual.

Alcohol drinking should be discontinued permanently. While alcohol will not aggravate the condition, reduction or cessation of alcoholic drinks is always an aid to one’s better health.