Life is complex. Often times it is mysterious. Sometimes things look fine on the outside but deeper troubles lurk beneath the surface. The unexpected death of Tim Russert is a good example of how something can be “more than meets the eye.”
On the outside Tim’s health seemed OK. According to his physician, he had heart disease but was in no danger. He wasn’t experiencing any symptoms of heart disease. No chest pain plagued him. He wasn’t limited by shortness of breath. Recently, he had walked on a stress test and passed without difficulty.
And then disaster struck. A cholesterol plaque in one of the major arteries of his heart ruptured. Blood flow to his heart was compromised, and he went into a life threatening heart arrhythmia. Even though CPR was started immediately, it was sometime before the paramedics could arrive to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm. Sadly, Tim passed away.
We’ve all been shocked by the loss of this magnificent human being.
The outpouring of dismay has been overwhelming.
“How could this happen?” “His stress test was normal!” “Shouldn’t he have seen a Cardiac Surgeon?”
The trouble is that stress tests don’t tell everything. Even the best stress test can’t pick up a heart blockage if the blood vessel is less than a 50% blocked. And unfortunately, nearly half of all heart attacks are caused by blockages that are 25-50%.
Heart blood vessels are living tissue, and cholesterol blockages can grow suddenly. Like a pimple they can swell with liquid cholesterol, and then because of stress or an unexplained insult, they can suddenly rupture. Bleeding occurs within the blood vessel and a clot can form shutting of the flow of blood. Dangerous heart rhythms may follow.
It is well known that inflammation within the heart arteries is a cause of heart disease. Many things lead to this inflammation: high saturated fat in the diet, diabetes, high LDL cholesterol levels, and even our emotions.
Most people don’t know it but a negative emotional state can create heart disease. Anger, fear, sadness, depression, and many other troublesome feelings have been shown to cause heart illness. Stress in particular can be devastating.
People who are overworks, or feel overwhelmed are particularly at risk of increased inflammation and heart attacks.
According to NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Mr. Russert’s life was very hectic. He stated that Tim was “burning it at both ends.”(http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/13/russert-dies-of-apparent-heart-attack/)
So if things can seem fine and yet beneath the surface trouble is lurking- what can be done to keep us from suffering an unexpected heart attack?
Lessons For Preventing An Unexpected Heart Attack
• Don’t Think: “It will never happen to me”
As Tim Russert’s death shows us even if we think we’re fine we need to be on the alert for heart disease. If you’re someone who has significant risk factors for heart disease begin taking an active role in your health management.
• Know your cardiac risk factors
The people who are more likely to suffer an unexpected heart attack are those people with risk factors. Examine your life and see if you possess 2 or more risk factors for heart disease If you do then you could be at risk. Heart disease traditional risk factors include: smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, low HDL cholesterol, males over the age of 45, females over the age of 65, sedentary lifestyle, or a family history of premature heart disease.
• Make sure you aren’t at risk for excessive blood vessel inflammation
Most people don’t know it but there is a simple blood test for determining if you have heightened inflammation that could be ravaging your body. The test is called: A High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein- hs-CRP for short. This is a simple blood test that your doctor can perform that can help tell you if you are at risk. People with excessive hs-CRP are more likely to get heart disease.
If you have an elevated hs-CRP diet and exercise has been shown to reduce your risk.
• Control your weight
Obesity is a major problem in America. It is estimated that over 30% of the population is obese. Obesity can lead to major health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Being overweight is also a component of the Metabolic Syndrome (http://www.metabolic-syndrome-institute.org/). People who have the Metabolic Syndrome have altered insulin metabolism and are at risk for premature heart disease.
If you have a problem with your weight seek professional help.
• Exercise Frequently
Regular aerobic exercise (the kind that gets your heart pumping) has been shown to prevent heart disease. It’s also useful for reducing the inflammation of your heart arteries. Exercising can reduce your chances of getting diabetes. It can lower your chances of developing the metabolic syndrome. Plus it can be great fun!
You should strive to do some form of aerobic exercise 45 minutes 4-5 times a week.
• Adopt the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet is an eating plan that has been shown to prevent heart disease. And you don’t have to move to a foreign country to follow the diet- (although it might be fun!). Amazingly, 75% of the people who follow this plan will not get heart disease. Even if you already have heart disease the diet can help prevent a second heart attack.
The key feature of the diet is limiting the intake of saturated fat in your diet. You should avoid eating animal products, particularly red meat. Switch to olive oil for all of your cooking and oil use. Increase your consumption of fish and other omega-3 fatty acids. Eat only whole grains with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Many books are available on this topic. A trip to the local library will prove fruitful. If you want to get a quick start look at my Online Store! You’ll see my simple pamphlet on Improving Your Heart Health with the Mediterranean Diet. Just click on the button to download a copy.
• Explore your emotional heart health- make sure you don’t have a Broken Heart
Is your heart broken? Most people don’t know it but our emotions can affect our physical body! If your heart is Broken you could be at risk for having a major heart event. When most people hear the words, A Broken Heart, they instantly think of a heart that has been traumatized because of a romantic relationship that has fallen apart. But this isn’t always the case.
Other things can lead to a Broken Heart. Stress, worry, anxiety, depression, or major heartache can break the heart and lead to heart disease.
If you’re suffering from severe emotional stress you could be at risk. Check out my other blog posting to find out more about developing heart trouble from a Broken Heart: drkirklaman.com/can-a-broken-heart-kill-you/
Although this list isn’t complete, if you follow these recommendation and suggestions you’ll be well on your way towards becoming more heart healthy.
We’ve all felt a great loss from Tim’s passing, but perhaps it can remind us to cherish life.
We may even be prompted to take a more active role in staying well.