Listen to Your Heart (Part 1)

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February is all about hearts. You may not care so much about Valentine’s Day, but hopefully you do care a little that it’s American Heart Month.

I know; you’ve heard it before: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and one out of every three deaths is due to heart disease. You’ve also likely heard the grim statistic that adults who have diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes. We hear these things a lot and over time, it’s easy to become immune to them.

Heart Facts
If you’re stifling a yawn right now, I don’t blame you. But maybe your interest will be piqued if you learned a few things about your heart — and your heart health — that you didn’t know. At the very least, it might grab your attention enough to say, get your cholesterol or blood pressure checked, limit your saturated fat intake, or start doing a little more physical activity. What can it hurt? Here goes.

Pump it! In less than one minute, your heart pumps blood to every cell in your body. Big deal, you say? It is when you consider that the human body contains about 100 trillion cells. That’s pretty amazing.

Laugh…a lot. As the old saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine.” Whether it’s the best is debatable, but a good laugh can do wonders. When you’re stressed out, the endothelium, which lines the blood vessels, becomes irritated. This can lead to inflammation in the blood vessels.

Inflammation is a no-no for heart health as it can cause a heart attack. And if this sounds crazy, research shows that people who have heart disease tend to laugh less, in general, and are more negative and hostile. Laughter helps “relax” the endothelium and improves blood flow. It also helps lower blood glucose and boosts the immune response. So lighten up: turn on Seinfeld reruns, The Office, The Three Stooges, or whatever makes you chuckle.

Dental floss is a lifesaver. Who knew that this lowly waxed string could be a weapon against heart disease? Studies link oral health to heart disease, believe it or not. And while everyone could stand to “brush up” on their oral health, people with diabetes need to be extra vigilant about brushing and flossing every day.

Periodontal disease is frequently referred to as the sixth complication of diabetes, as people with uncontrolled diabetes are at higher risk for developing this disease of the gums and bones that support the teeth. The bad news is that, not only are you at risk for losing your teeth if you have periodontal disease, you’re also at higher risk for getting heart disease. When your gums are infected (this is what happens when you have periodontal disease), it’s thought that the bacteria can travel through your blood, triggering your body to make heart-damaging chemicals.

Bacteria may also lead to the formation of plaque inside your artery walls (not the same as dental plaque), which can narrow the opening of the artery and/or break off, leading to a blood clot. Both can cause a heart attack or stroke. Getting regular dental check-ups, brushing at least twice a day, and flossing once a day can keep your teeth and your heart happy.

Heart, don’t fail me now! We talk a lot about heart attack and stroke and their link to diabetes. What you may not know is that people with diabetes are at least twice as likely to have heart failure as people without the condition. Heart failure is a condition whereby the heart loses the ability to pump properly (don’t forget that the heart has 100 trillion cells to take care of!). It can happen gradually.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is one type of heart failure; when this develops, fluid builds up inside the body, including the lungs, making breathing difficult. Diseased arteries and high blood pressure are risk factors for CHF. Both can weaken your heart, affecting its ability to pump blood efficiently. CHF can be treated, but obviously it’s best to prevent it in the first place. How? Control your cholesterol, your blood pressure, your blood glucose, and your weight. Stay physically active and make heart-healthy food choices.

Unbreak your heart. No one wants a broken heart, especially around Valentine’s Day! But if you’ve recently experienced a stressful or traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, you may be at risk for “broken heart syndrome,” or stress cardiomyopathy.

A stressful event releases stress hormones in the body, which can weaken the heart. This, in turn, may trigger heart failure, low blood pressure, shock, or abnormal heartbeats. Symptoms include chest pain and shortness of breath (much like a heart attack) and occur anywhere from minutes to hours after the trauma. While broken heart syndrome can be life threatening, it can be treated and it can improve very quickly. Remember to always seek medical attention if you have chest pain or shortness of breath.

More on the heart next week!

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