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Heart Beating Too Fast? You May Be At Risk Of Heart Disease

Written by Reshma Pathare on Wed, 07 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Sintayehu Abebe

Key Highlights

  • Cardiovascular disease aka CVD is responsible for at least 1/3rd of deaths in South-East Asian region annually.
  • Air pollution accounts for 28% of CVD deaths in South-East Asia region. Apart from air pollution, an unhealthy diet is fast becoming a prime cause for CVD.
  • Heart attacks are becoming commoner among the younger population between the ages 35-54.
  • Heart disease caused due to smoking is responsible for 1 out of 5 deaths around the world.
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To understand the reason(s) behind why it is important to keep one’s heart health intact, it is pertinent to understand what encapsulates the term ‘heart disease’.

Heart disease is actually an umbrella terminology that indicates any problem that affects the heart or blood vessels. In fact, the terms heart disease and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are very often used interchangeably.

However, it should be noted that while all heart diseases are CVDs, all CVDS are not necessarily heart diseases.

Understanding heart disease

Heart disease is any ailment that particularly affects the heart, whereas CVDs are ailments that affect the heart (cardio) and the blood vessels (vascular) all over the body.

The commonest heart disease is the coronary artery disease (CAD), also known as, coronary heart disease. It occurs when the coronary arteries, which are major pathways for supplying oxygen, nutrients, and blood to the heart, get damaged or diseased due to inflammation or deposition of cholesterol.

CAD can cause chest pain, strokes, or heart attack.

While CAD is the most common heart disease, it is not the only one. Some of the other heart diseases include:

  • Arrhythmia: A condition where the heart beats less than 60 beats per minute or more than 100 beats per minute. It occurs due to malfunctioning of the electrical impulses that control heartbeats.
  • Congestive heart failure: Better known as heart failure, it occurs when the pumping and relaxing function of the heart is not happening the way it should.
  • Congenital heart ailments: These are ailments or problems that happen due to anomalies by birth. Some of these problems include a hole in the heart, or, a missing valve.
  • Myocardial infarction, commonly known as heart attack: This happens due to interruption of blood flow to the heart due to a clot or plaque, or due to narrowing of arteries.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: A genetic condition affecting the muscles of the heart, wherein the muscle walls get thick and contractions become difficult, posing a challenge for the heart to pump blood in and out.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) can include some heart diseases such as congenital heart disease and CAD, apart from other ailments.

What are the heart disease causes & risk factors?

As we have seen above, while there are allied factors such as genetics, infections arising out of autoimmune disorders, immunosuppression, and circulatory system problems that contribute to heart diseases, there are some influences that are particularly pronounced as risk factors towards making a person prone to heart disease.

Let us take a look at some major risk factors:

Risk factors for heart disease

Obesity

Obesity has been declared as a public health problem by the World Health Organization, for the multiple health problems it brings along.

Overweight and obesity is measured most commonly via the Body Mass Index (BMI). Accordingly, a BMI between 25 to 29 makes a person overweight, whereas a BMI over 30 makes a person obese.

Apart from being a major causative factor for diabetes, musculoskeletal issues, and some cancers, obesity contributes majorly towards development of heart disease.

Obesity increases a person’s risk towards hypertension, stroke, CAD, and heart failure.

There are three ways in which obesity can bring on heart disease.

  • First, it changes the composition of good and bad cholesterol in the body, by increasing the levels of bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Alongside, it also makes the body lose good HDL cholesterol which can actually fight bad cholesterol.
  • Secondly, obesity leads to diabetes, which in turn notches up the chances of heart disease. Diabetes causes the blood glucose levels to rise high, thus damaging the blood vessels and the nerves controlling the heart and blood vessels. Diabetes also causes changes in the immune system leading to release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. When these cytokines get released more than necessary, they can cause heart attacks and strokes.
  • Thirdly, obesity causes elevation in blood pressure levels as obese people require excessive blood than others, to carry nutrients and oxygen all around the body. This leads to a build-up of blood pressure, especially on the circulatory system, which in turn leads to heart disease.

Excessive belly fat

While overall body obesity or overweight is definitely a cause for concern, it is now proven that even if your BMI levels are normal, if there’s a build-up of visceral fat around your abdomen, then too, it increases a person’s risk towards contracting heart diseases.

This is why, apart from BMI, now even the Waist-to-Hip ratio is being considered pertinent for checking if a person is predisposed to getting heart diseases.

Hence, it is important to where a person tends to accumulate the fat in his/her body. If the fat storage tends to be in the abdominal area, it leads to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high lipid levels, and inflammation – all of which are causative for heart diseases.

Smoking

Smoking is considered dangerous for many reasons like cancer, kidney disease, and respiratory problems, but its direct effect on raising the risk of heart diseases remains quite undermined.

In active smokers, smoking sets in long-term or chronic blood pressure, as well as, long term or chronic elevated heart rate.

It reduces the quantum of oxygen being carried to the body’s tissues, and also lowers the blood flowing from the heart.

Smoking damages the blood vessels, and increases the risk of clots and strokes – the latter due to reduced blood flow to the brain.

Nicotine in the smoke is causative for all these problems. It is a fatal, addictive substance that stays in the body system for a minimum of 6-7 hours and leads to hardening of the artery walls, narrowing of the arteries, and increase in blood pressure among other things.

What’s worse is that even second-hand aka passive smokers are not spared from these problems.

Stress

Stress is known as a silent killer vis-a-vis heart disease.

Apart from causing psychological and developmental disorders like depression and anxiety, stress causes immune system disbalance, and also leads to heart diseases.

While a low level of stress is actually good for the human body, when it becomes deeper and chronic, stress can cause the hypothalamus (part of brain) to trigger the hormone epinephrine, that signals the body to “fight or (take) flight”.

This hormonal trigger causes several changes in the body – predominantly raising the blood pressure levels. When these levels become or remain chronically high, it becomes a pertinent reason for heart disease.

Chronic stress leads to blood clots, which also leads to heart diseases and CVDs.

Constant stress leads to hyper-activity of the part of brain called amygdala, which triggers the bone marrow to produce more WBCs, sensing some danger. Release of excessive WBCs cause the arteries to get inflamed, thus leading to heart problems.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a delicate time for women and even more so with regards to their heart health. The heart and circulatory system undergo excessive stress when the baby is in the womb. That is because, the body gets 40-50% extra blood supply in this time, to nourish the baby. This leads to increased heartbeats per minute. While an increase of 10-15 heartbeats per minute is not worrisome, if it goes beyond that, it may lead to cardiac problems.

Labour and delivery also cause stress on the heart.

Thankfully, heart-related problems that arise during pregnancy tend to be short-term and not fatal, as such.

Apart from the above, heart disease can also get entrenched due to diabetes, excessive consumption of alcohol, unhealthy food habits, and lack of exercise.

Symptoms of heart disease

Symptoms of heart disease and CVDs differ according to the type of underlying problem.

Symptoms of heart disease

  • Those with congenital heart defects are likely to experience shortness of breath, fatigue after even little exercise, or fluttery heart. In children, congenital defects are noticed by paleness of skin, shortness of breath during breastfeeding, and abnormal swelling of legs and abdominal area.
  • Heart disease emanating out of infections will be indicated by fatigue, shortness of breath, dry and continuous cough, unexplained skin rashes or spots, swelling in limbs and abdomen, and sudden fever.
  • Problems with the heart valves are symptomized by fatigue, swelling, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, chest pain, and fainting spells.
  • Coronary artery disease in particular is symptomized by shortness of breath, chest pain, chest constriction, pain or numbness of the limbs, and pain in the back, jaws, or upper abdomen.
  • A problem in the heart’s lining will show symptoms like shooting chest pains, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, and swelling in lower body.
  • Blockages in blood vessels anywhere in the body are characterised by nausea, indigestion, heartburn, neck pain, dizzy spells, and sudden pain in the chest or anywhere in the body.

When should you see a doctor?

It is best to consult a doctor if one or more of the above symptoms start making an increased appearance.

At the same time, take special care if you have answered in the yes to any of the points below:

  • People with family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol;
  • People suffering from diabetes, kidney disease, or autoimmune disease;
  • People with a habit of excessive or regular smoking or alcohol consumption;
  • People leading a sedentary lifestyle;
  • People eating unhealthy, junk food

Heart Disease Prevention

Eighty per cent of heart diseases are curable; but of course, as the saying goes: prevention is better than cure.

Hence, follow these simple tips to prevent getting afflicted by heart diseases, at least the non-congenital ones:

  • Maintain a healthy BMI and waist-to-hip ratio This disallows excessive buildup of fat around the visceral organs, as well as, all around the body; lowers the blood sugar levels; reduces triglyceride levels; and lowers the elevated blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy, wholesome diet Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats. Avoid consuming processed foods, deep-fried foods, refined foods, and foods with excessive salt or sugar.
  • Avoid smoking and consumption of tobacco in any other form as well
  • Avoid a completely sedentary lifestyle Choose at least one easy form of exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, yoga) as per your age and physical capacity. It keeps the body moving, reduces weight, reduces blood pressure, and builds overall immunity by boosting ‘happy hormones’ like endorphins and estrogen (in women).
  • Manage your stress Manage stress by practising techniques like meditation or mindfulness, or taking up calming exercises like yoga and Tai Chi. Indulge in a hobby, socialize, or give some creative outlet like writing and painting to release the built-up stress.
  • Sleep well Get sound sleep for at least 8 hours in the night. It lowers the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, among others.

Heart disease treatments

There are two types of treatments that doctors suggest to cure heart disease: Lifestyle changes, and medications. The choice depends on how far has the disease progressed.

Lifestyle changes include switching to a healthier diet, getting some exercise, reducing weight and so on.

Medications are prescribed as per individual case history and progression. There are also certain surgeries that are prescribed to treat heart diseases or CVDs that have gone beyond a stage of repair via only medicines. These include:

  • Angioplasty
  • Bypass surgery
  • Stent placement

Conclusion

Heart diseases and CVDs can have a debilitating effect on a good life. They slow a person down, making him/her incapable of doing many things that a healthy person can do.

However, the good part is that most heart diseases and CVDs are preventable (unless they are genetically acquired) and curable with minimum surgical intervention.

Hence, the key is to lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible, so as to not burden the heart excessively.

If you suffer from some other health issue like diabetes or kidney disease, be sure to take relevant health check-ups as and when prescribed. Otherwise too, it is advisable to go for at least one complete check-up annually, so as to detect a budding heart disease in time. This helps in reigning the problem in with lifestyle changes or medications, instead of needing surgery.

Treat the heart well, and it’ll treat you with the bounty of good health for a long time in life.

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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