The advancements being made today in cardiovascular research are unbelievable. Scientists, focusing on the prevention, detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease and related conditions, have discovered a range of factors that contribute to the diseases or that may soon offer cures for conditions once believed to be fatal or irreversible.
Understanding the role of inflammation and inflammation markers, new methods of diagnostic imaging, surgical devices and options, pharmacological formulas and recognition of diet, sleep patterns and other lifetime habits soon will play an even greater role in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Of particular interest lately is the use of stem cells in the regeneration of damaged heart or brain tissue such as what is usually found after a heart attack or stroke.
Strokes, which are very serious, are the second-leading cause of death worldwide. People who survive strokes often are left with significant disabilities. In November, British doctors injected stem cells into the brain of an elderly stroke patient, hoping the cells would help the man recover from his stroke. The patient is the first of 12 who will be given progressively higher doses of stem cells as part of a selective new trial (the Pilot Investigation of Stem Cells in Stroke, or PISCES, study). All the participants are men older than 60 who have had strokes and who failed to respond significantly to treatment.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells. They can turn themselves into different types of mature cells in the right conditions. Earlier trials in rats that began more than 10 years ago showed not only that the stem cells transformed themselves into mature neurons, they also triggered a variety of repair processes in the body, such as helping to grow new brain blood vessels and mobilizing the brain’s own population of stem cells.
The two major independent risk factors for cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. About 90 percent of middle-aged Americans will develop high blood pressure in their lifetimes, and nearly 70 percent of people with high blood pressure today do not have it under control. Prevention and control of high blood pressure demand changes in behavior. Two important factors are physical activity and diet. Don’t wait until scientists find miracles to prevent or treat strokes — these may come too late for you. Take care of your health and your children’s health.
Cardiovascular disease claims 2,600 lives each day in the United States. The following are tips to help you minimize risk factors and control cardiovascular disease:
1. Do not smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. Smoking increases the risk of heart attacks and heart failure.
2. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and keeps your heart strong and disease-free. Current recommendations are to exercise daily for 30 to 60 minutes.
3. Maintain a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet and participating in a personal exercise program.
4. Get your cholesterol levels checked. High cholesterol does not cause symptoms until it is too late, and the only way to know if you have a healthy cholesterol level is to get it checked.
5. Maintain a healthy cholesterol level. The ideal level for LDL (“bad” cholesterol) is less than 100. It also is important to keep HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels up.
6. Get your blood pressure checked. Like cholesterol, hypertension does not always cause symptoms, so many people are not aware that they have this condition.
7. Maintain a normal blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Your systolic blood pressure should be below 140 and your diastolic blood pressure below 90.
8. See your doctor. Regular checkups are the best way to keep your heart healthy.
Children and adolescents:
The development of cardiovascular disease begins in childhood. Control of risk factors is the most important part of prevention.
1. Limit the use of television and computer games to one hour per day.
2. Go outside and move around for at least 30 minutes every day.
3. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
4. Avoid or eat in moderation fast food and fried foods.
5. Don’t smoke.
6. See your pediatrician for all regularly scheduled visits.
7. Encourage children to report unusual feelings, such as a racing heart or feeling faint, to an adult.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.