A month to change your heart: Day 8

Coronary artery disease can be prevented, and often reversed.  Medications can help, but if you continue to gain weight, do not exercise, and let stress get to you, you might be going down a different road.

But, armed with a little bit of knowledge, you can do better.

Let me explain.  There were a lot of heart attacks, some fatal, during the recent snowstorm.  I saw patients all week in the office, and when I asked them how much they were exercising, a disturbing number told me they had been out shoveling.

Two men said the same thing:  “Not much exercise before this week, but that changed this week -- I shoveled lots of snow”

To explain why that’s a problem,  it is important to know how blockages can occur in coronary blood vessels. 

The inside of babies’ arteries are smooth as their bottoms.  But like that cute little tush, if you aren’t careful, arteries can become red and irritated. Picture your poor artery, irritated by cigarettes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and inactivity.  It does not have a chance. 

Inflamed arteries can develop cracks, and then a blood clot can form as the body tries desperately to heal this sore. The next step can be a heart attack

Back to that snowstorm.  Lifting up heavy wet snow can put a terrible strain on the lining of irritated arteries, and cause a crack to form.  Blood will fill that crack and form a tiny blood clot.  Throw some frigid air into the mix, which constricts the arteries, and thickens the blood, and raises blood pressure – and you have created the perfect storm – a heart attack ready to happen.

The good news is that arteries can repair themselves.  Studies have shown that by taking steps to stop the inflammation of plaque, you can cause it to shrink as much as 10%.  This small amount of shrinkage can improve blood flow to the heart by 200%, and change your life.  If you do this, plaque stabilizes, and you can then safely shovel as much snow as you want

On the eighth day of Change of Heart, my doctor said to me::

  1. If you have food in your stomach during exercise, your body has to choose where to send blood.  Since there is not enough for both digestion and exercise, either your muscles will cramp or your stomach will begin to hurt.  People with heart disease sometimes experience chest discomfort after meals.  This is because blood has been shunted away from the heart to the stomach.
  2. Heart attacks can occur if you are not in good shape, and attempt to do something strenuous. By understanding how this happens, you can take steps to prevent and reverse inflammation of your arteries
  3. If you experience dizziness, excessive fatigue, unusually heavy sweating, rapid or very irregular heartbeats, increased shortness of breath, poor recovery,  see your doctor immediately
  4. If you have chest discomfort, jaw, back or arm pain or sudden shortness of breath, that does not go away with rest, call 911.

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