There are a number of ways the heart can be damaged. One of the most frequent causes of heart damage in the United States is a heart attack from something called atherosclerosis. It’s a condition in which the heart cannot get enough blood flow to keep the muscles alive and healthy.
The heart can also be damaged by viruses or bacterial infection, radiation, high blood pressure, genetics, autoimmune conditions, drugs/medications, or pre-existing conditions, to name a few.
In some cases, such as a genetic predisposition for heart disease, it is challenging to keep the heart functioning the way it should. Specialists and frequent heart and blood tests are needed.
However, for the most part heart disease is a preventable condition through healthy diet and exercise. Heart disease can be extremely debilitating and decrease one’s quality of life, so understanding and avoiding the risk is a good idea.
Atherosclerosis describes the process in which the blood vessels (arteries) that feed the heart become blocked. Over time cholesterol, fat and minerals such as calcium build up in the arteries. This buildup is called plaque.
What one eats is closely tied to how much plaque gets into one’s arteries. High cholesterol and fatty foods such as meat, eggs and dairy all increase the chance that plaque will develop.
When the arteries become clogged with this plaque, it’s more difficult for blood to flow through and reach the heart muscle.
Think of it like a water pipe in the house. Over time minerals may deposit in the pipe and this reduces the water pressure that comes out of tap. When arteries that surround the heart get clogged, it takes longer for the heart muscle itself to get the blood flow it needs.
Plaque can also lead to blood clots. As platelets and red blood cells stick together on the plaque, the blood clot grows. If it breaks loose and clogs the artery, then all blood flow to the heart muscle is lost. This is a heart attack.
The muscle of the heart works constantly to keep the heart pumping. Just like all other active muscles in the body, the heart muscle needs a steady supply of blood which carries oxygen, so that the cells of the heart can function properly.
If that blood supply is cut off, then oxygen is cut off and the cells begin to die.
The symptoms of a heart attack include the following:
Jaw, back or arm pain
Feeling of Doom
The most important thing to do if you suspect you or someone you know is having a heart attack, is to call 911 or go immediately to the emergency room.
The longer the heart muscle is without oxygen, the more heart cells will die. Time is of the essence. This is an absolute medical emergency and a blocked artery does not open up by itself. Medical intervention is required.
With quick medical intervention more of the heart muscle can be saved. If caught early enough there may be only minor damage, and a near complete recovery is possible. It becomes critical to avoid future heart attacks though.
Preventing heart disease
You’ve heard it before, and it’s still true! Diet and exercise are your key to health. Many diets fail because they are started too aggressively, and not enough time is given to transition to better eating habits. One of the best places to start, is to ADD foods. This means:
- Always have fruit before eating any breakfast. Wait 15 minutes and then eat breakfast.
- Always have a green salad before lunch and dinner. Keep it plant based with leafy greens, vegetables, tomatoes, sprouts and anything else you like that grew out of the earth. Do no put egg or cheese on the salad, and select a simple olive oil vinaigrette.
- Snack on fruits and veggies. Get in the habit of having an apple or banana nearby. Remind yourself to eat your healthy snack before mid-day or evening cravings set in.
This is an effective strategy because it gives you more. Instead of denying yourself food, you are offering yourself more healthy foods. You will be more full when you finally sit down to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner, and less likely to over-eat. Little by little you can transition to healthier choices, and it will start become a regular part of your life.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.