THE CHALLENGES OF PREVENTING HEART DISEASE
Everyone agrees that health is very precious if not the most precious belonging. Don’t we wish each other to stay healthy on New Year’s Day?
The insurance policy we generally subscribe to is that the continuous progress of today’s medicine will help cure us as needed.
But, shouldn’t we prevent rather than heal?
We are all curious to know “the secret” of these people who live to a mature, respectable age without suffering from an important sickness. But, are we really ready to invest ourselves and to take all necessary means to preserve our good health?
Life expectancy and reduction of early deaths
In industrialized countries, life expectancy increased a lot in the last century.
The reduction of premature deaths in childhood and young adulthood largely contributed to this phenomenon. The improvement of sanitary conditions, the discovery of antibiotics and the efficiency of vaccination also positively influenced life expectancy.
Best follow-ups for chronic diseases
Otherwise, the increase in longevity also benefitted from better tools for diagnostics, more efficient treatments of many sicknesses as well as positive changes in lifestyles, including an evident and marked decrease of tobacco usage by a large proportion of the population.
This positive overview is tempered by one problem, in the sense that we generally live longer, but the “extra” years are often affected by sickness or sufferings.
According to the World Health Organization, the last ten years of life, on average, are characterised by health problems.
Science improved life expectancy, but the quality of these extra years did not follow the same rhythm.
Beware, the worst may yet to come.
As it is, a renowned doctor established in Chicago insinuated the possibility of a catastrophe in a recent article published in a medical magazine. According to him, the gains on life expectancy recorded over the past 50 years will be erased by the greatest epidemic of chronic diseases in the history of humanity.
Consequently, the future generations could live shorter lives than those who will have preceded them.
Obesity, the developing wound
The author of the study explains that, since 1985, we are witnessing a continuous increase in obesity of young people.
Medicine is relatively efficient to prevent premature deaths when obesity begins around 45 years old, when diabetes associated with obesity appears around 55 years old and when coronary diseases show up around 65 years old.
The problem is very different when the sequence of events begins at early childhood and at teenage years, because it is more difficult and more costly to treat obesity consequences.
Outrageous associated costs
In Canada, cardiovascular diseases are the first cause for hospitalisation and surgery. Moreover, they are among the ones with the highest direct costs. Besides, the supplementary costs related to premature obesity will put unprecedented pressure on the health system.
“All want to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die”
These considerations lead to a major issue, that is if it is possible to reverse the situation and improve our last ten years of life, otherwise doomed to sickness and suffering.
There exists a practical solution, but that is weakened by… the human nature!
Indeed, we are fearful when a disease hits us, but once the treatment is applied, we become carefree all over again!
Long process and tip of the iceberg
Coronary disease is the culmination of a long process involving many factors that lead to the forming of atheroma plaques, better known as cholesterol.
The disease in the arteries is already present when a severe accident - instable angina or heart attack - occurs.
The patient feels the pain, fears death, anticipates chaos. We never have time to be sick.
Electoral promises, false impressions and the end of anxiety
Promises are all over the place at this moment. “I’m quitting smoking!” “I will exercise regularly!” “I will lose weight!” “I will take time for me…” and what else?
The medical improvements of today - quick coronary artery unblocking done by angioplasty, for example - often save the life of the terrified patient. Hospitalization, often short-term, convinces the patient that he or she is healed.
Being released quickly from hospitalization, combined to a type of treatment implying no anesthesia and of relative short length, often reduce the importance of the problem.
Changing habits is difficult
The good, new intentions quickly leave and the old habits take over. Yet, the sickness is still present in the arteries as all that was done consisted of squeezing the cholesterol plaques against the sides.
We notice the same reaction when a patient must have an aorta-coronary bypass, better known as open-heart surgery. In this precise case, we make “bridges” to bypass the coronary narrowing.
Basic problem and lifestyles
The base of the problem remains present and the risks recurrence are there. We must attack the nerve of the problem that consists of curing the coronary disease. To succeed, we must first prevent it.
Prevention begins with a radical change in lifestyles in order to avoid the growth of the coronary disease, to avoid the catastrophe associated with premature obesity and to avoid a heart attack relapse.
The solution to prevention is simple and easily accessible.
The sceptics will be proven wrong when they learn that, presently, the best medicinal therapy available reduces the risk of suffering from a first heart attack by 1% while changing five life habits reduces this risk by…85%!
The life habits are the following:
1. Adopting healthy eating habits
2. Maintaining a normal body weight (circumference of the waist less than 100 cm for men and less than 88 cm for women)
3. Do not smoke
4. Exercising regularly, 30 minutes per day
5. Limiting to one or two alcoholic beverages per day
So, what are we waiting for?
Beneficial collateral effects
That’s not all! Apart from the effects on the cardiovascular diseases, the changes in the life habits mentioned above reduce the risks of cancers and neurodegenerative sicknesses.
Heredity factors, the family genes
“Yes, but doctor! In my family, everybody dies at a young age! It’s also my destiny!” As weird as it seems, this is false! Fascinating studies demonstrated that adopting better life habits can change the statistics. The good habits activate the “good” genes and chromosomes and disable the “bad” ones.
Incredible, right? But… proven!