February 1 – Have A Heart!

Today’s factismal: February is American Heart Month!

Quick! If you are a woman, gather three of your female friends. Odds are that one of the four of you has heart disease. That’s because 42.9 million women in the USA, or about 28% of the female population has heart disease. And it isn’t just women who suffer from this; about one in every twelve men has heart disease. And heart disease is the number one killer in the USA, accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths. Heart disease kills more Americans than accidents, diabetes, kidney failure, influenza, suicide, and murder combined.

One in four women and one on twelve men suffer from heart disease

One in four women and one on twelve men suffer from heart disease

And heart disease takes many forms. There’s atrial fibrillation, where the top part of the heart beats in 8/8 time while the bottom part does a waltz. There’s coronary artery disease, where the pipes that lead to your heart get clogged up with fatty plaque. There’s heart failure, where the heart moves only a little blood even when your body wants a lot. And then there’s a heart attack, where your heart just throws in the towel and decides to take a rest on the sidelines for a bit.

Heart disease rates across the USA (Image courtesy CDC)

Heart disease rates across the USA
(Image courtesy CDC)

Fortunately, there are almost as many ways to combat heart disease as there are types of heart disease. Adding just 30 minutes of light exercise each day by walking, working in the garden, or going for a bike ride, is enough to reduce the effects of heart disease by nearly 3/4. Eating a low-fat, low salt diet cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack by more than 1/3. And keeping an upbeat attitude has also been shown to improve health (and to get you more friends to share those long walks with).

If you’d like to learn more about heart health and American Heart Health Month, then head on over to:
https://healthfinder.gov/nho/FebruaryToolkit.aspx

September 29 – Hearty Recommendation

Today’s factismal: Your heart will beat nearly three billion times during your life.

Welcome to World Heart Day! Today, we celebrate all things cardiac-related, from the fact that we all got ’em to the fact that we all need ’em. But the one thing that we celebrate most today is the fact that we are smart enough to protect these organs by taking care of them with proper diet, exercise, and plenty of rest. What? You don’t do any of those things? Well, you should!

Why? Because heart disease is the number one killer in the world. Every year, heart disease and congestive heart failure take more than 17.5 million people! Let’s put it this way – if you know four women, then one of them will die from heart disease. All told, about 28% of the women and 9% of the men in the USA have heart disease. Heart disease kills more Americans than accidents, diabetes, kidney failure, influenza, suicide, and murder combined.

Heart disease rates across the USA (Image courtesy CDC)

Death rates from heart disease across the USA
(Image courtesy CDC)

Heart disease takes many forms. There’s atrial fibrillation, where the top part of the heart beats in 9/7 time while the bottom part does a waltz. There’s coronary artery disease, where the pipes that lead to your heart get clogged up with fatty plaque. There’s heart failure, where the heart moves only a little blood even when your body wants a lot. And then there’s a heart attack, where your heart just throws in the towel and decides to take a rest on the sidelines for a bit.

Even the Assitant Surgeon general needs to have her blood pressure monitored (Image courtesy CDC)

Even the Assistant Surgeon General needs to have her blood pressure monitored
(Image courtesy CDC)

So how do they test for heart disease? There are lots of ways but the first test is one that you’ve probably seen at the local drug store – they take your blood pressure. Known technically as a sphygmomanometer or blood pressure cuff (because sphygmomanometer is a mouthful)they tell the doctor just how much effort your heart has to expend moving blood around your body. There is a number that tells the doctor the maximum pressure that it takes to move blood (the systolic pressure) and another that tells the doctor the minimum pressure in your blood (the diastolic pressure). Typically, the two numbers are about 30 points different, e.g., a reading of 120/90. If the numbers differ by more than 40 points for multiple readings, that could indicate a serious heart condition. And if the systolic number is too high or too low, then that could also mean that you need to see a doctor.

Description Systolic (High) Number Diastolic (Low) Number What to do?
Hypotension <90 <60 See a doctor
Normal 90–119 60–79 Smile!
Prehypertension 120–139 80–89 See a doctor
Hypertension >140 >90 Really go see a doctor

Blood pressure that is too low is known as hypotension and can cause dizziness and fainting; it is caused by things such as shock, blood loss, disease, and simply standing up too quickly. (That last one usually goes away pretty quickly but it has a cool name – orthostatic hypotension.) Hypotension is fairly rare and usually caused by a reaction to medications.

Blood pressure that is too high is known as hypertension; doctors call it “the silent killer” because it can cause strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, kidney failure, and blindness without the victim ever knowing that he has it. And there are a lot of people with the disease. The CDC estimates that one out of every three Americans has hypertension – that’s 70,000,000 people! As you might guess, something this common and this deadly has a lot of people researching it.

Heart disease rates across the USA (Image courtesy CDC)

Heart disease rates across the USA
(Image courtesy CDC)

And that research is beginning to bear fruit. In a recent study of 9,300 people suffering from hypertension, they discovered that dropping the diastolic pressure below 140 is good but dropping it below 120 is great! When the participants managed to bring their blood pressure back down into the “normal” range, their risk for heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure dropped by a third. Even better, their risk of dying dropped by a quarter! Because the results were so startling and so clear, the study ended two years early so that everyone could be put on a regime to lower their blood pressure.

If you’d like to celebrate World Heart Day by doing a little heart research of your own and maybe work in some citizen science on the side, why not head over to the CDC’s Million Heart website. there you will find tools to help you manage your blood pressure and learn what it will take to prevent a million heart attacks by 2017. To learn more, beat a path to:
http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/

July 13 – Healthy As An Ox

Today’s factismal: National Men’s Health Week starts today. Go find a man and help him get healthy!

Odds are, you know a man. And if you know a man, odds are that you know a man who is reluctant to talk about his health. And that’s a darn shame because men aren’t nearly as healthy as we should be. Want proof of that? Just take a look at the list of things that kill men:

Cause of Death In Men Percent Of Deaths Number of Deaths
1) Heart disease 24.6 321,284
2) Cancer 23.5 306,918
3) Unintentional injuries 6.3 82,280
4) Chronic lower respiratory diseases 5.4 70,526
5) Stroke 4.1 53,547
6) Diabetes 3.1 40,487
7) Suicide 2.5 32,651
8) Influenza and pneumonia 2.1 27,427
9) Alzheimer’s disease 2.0 26,121
10) Chronic liver disease 1.8 23,509

Just look at those numbers and try not to freak. Cancer and heart disease in men account for nearly half of all our deaths. And men are much worse at taking care of ourselves than women (ask any woman whose had to nurse “man flu”). Men are 1.6 times more likely to die of a heart attack than women, and 1.4 times more likely to die of cancer. And we’re twice as likely to die in an accident (doctor’s call this the “hold my beer” effect). Let’s face it, guys – when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we suck.

Death rates are improving overall but men still lag (Image courtesy CDC)

Death rates are improving overall but men still lag
(Image courtesy CDC)

So what can we do about it? Three simple things. (We can all count to three, right?) If we do these three things, our death rates will come down and our families will be happier (and our sex lives will improve). What are they?

  1. Go to the damn doctor! You have no excuse not to go to the doctor once a year for a check-up. Yes, I mean you. You’d never forget to change your car’s oil when it was time, so why won’t you do this simple preventative maintenance on your own engine? I go every year on my birthday and the doctor is very happy with me as a consequence. And those tests that you don’t want done? Good news – most doctors only do them now if you have a family history of prostate cancer (and sometimes not even then).
  2. Get some damn exercise! No, jumping to conclusions doesn’t count. Instead, walk around the block every night. Make it a special time with your spouse or your kids – or even an excuse to sneak in a few moments of “me” time. Just fifteen minutes of walking every day can give you four extra years with that family you love. If walking isn’t your thing, start riding your bike or swimming or working in the garden. Do whatever exercise it is that you love so that the ones you love can love you back for a longer time.
  3. Eat some damn vegetables and fruit! And no, french fries and ketchup don’t count. Eat a salad once a week. Try adding a piece of fruit (an apple or banana or a handful of cherries) to your meal. Even better, eat them first! When you eat the vegetables and fruit first, you have less room for the greasy, unhealthy stuff that follows. As a result, you’ll eat less and lose weight, making you sexier and better looking. (Unfortunately, this has no effect on baldness. Darn.)

If you do those three things, your chances of dying from cancer or heart disease plummet like a choking player in the finals. As a result, you’ll have more time to spend with your family and friends – and you’ll get to be obnoxiously smug about how much better your health is. If you’d like to learn about even more things that you can do to help your health, then head over to the website for National Men’s Health Week:
http://www.menshealthmonth.org/week/index.html

September 16 – Heart To Heart

Today’s factismal: The technical name for a blood pressure cuff is sphygmomanometer.

Every time you go to a doctor’s office, you meet a nurse carrying one. Most drugstores have an automatic one. And you can even buy little ones to use at home. They are one of the most common medical devices in use today. What are they? The sphygmomanometer or blood pressure cuff (because sphygmomanometer is a mouthful). They get their name from what they do; a manometer measures pressure and sphygmos is Greek (what else?) for pulse. So a sphygmomanometer measures the pressure of your pulse.

Even the Assitant Surgeon general needs to have her blood pressure monitored (Image courtesy CDC)

Even the Assistant Surgeon General needs to have her blood pressure monitored
(Image courtesy CDC)

And it turns out that the pressure of your pulse is a pretty important thing to measure. It tells the doctor a lot about your cardiovascular system; that is, about the way your heart pumps blood through your body. For example, your blood pressure has two numbers associated with it. There is a number that tells the doctor the maximum pressure that it takes to move blood (the systolic pressure) and another that tells the doctor the minimum pressure in your blood (the diastolic pressure).  Typically, the two numbers are about 30 points different, e.g., a reading of 120/90. If the numbers differ by more than 40 points for multiple readings, that could indicate a serious heart condition. And if the systolic number is too high or too low, then that could also mean that you need to see a doctor.

Description Systolic (High) Number Diastolic (Low) Number What to do?
Hypotension <90 <60 See a doctor
Normal 90–119 60–79 Smile!
Prehypertension 120–139 80–89 See a doctor
Hypertension >140 >90 Really go see a doctor

Blood pressure that is too low is known as hypotension and can cause dizziness and fainting; it is caused by things such as shock, blood loss, disease, and simply standing up too quickly. (That last one usually goes away pretty quickly but it has a cool name – orthostatic hypotension.) Hypotension is fairly rare and usually caused by a reaction to medications.

Blood pressure that is too high is known as hypertension; doctors call it “the silent killer” because it can cause strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, kidney failure, and blindness without the victim ever knowing that he has it. And there are a lot of people with the disease. The CDC estimates that one out of every three Americans has hypertension  – that’s 70,000,000 people! As you might guess, something this common and this deadly has a lot of people researching it.

Heart disease rates across the USA (Image courtesy CDC)

Heart disease rates across the USA
(Image courtesy CDC)

And that research is beginning to bear fruit. In a recent study of 9,300 people suffering from hypertension, they discovered that dropping the diastolic pressure below 140 is good but dropping it below 120 is great! When the participants managed to bring their blood pressure back down into the “normal” range, their risk for heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure dropped by a third. Even better, their risk of dying dropped by a quarter! Because the results were so startling and so clear, the study ended two years early so that everyone could be put on a regime to lower their blood pressure.

If you’d like to do a little heart work of your own and maybe work in some citizen science on the side, why not head over to the CDC’s Million Heart website. there you will find tools to help you manage your blood pressure and learn what it will take to prevent a million heart attacks by 2017. To learn more, beat a path to:
http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/

 

September 3 – Hearty Recommendation

Today’s factismal: Your heart will beat nearly 3,000,000,000 times during your life.

Quick! If you are a woman, gather three of your female friends. Odds are that one of the four of you has heart disease. That’s because 42.9 million women in the USA, or about 28% of the female population has heart disease. And it isn’t just women who suffer from this; about one in every twelve men has heart disease. And heart disease is the number one killer in the USA, accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths. Heart disease kills more Americans than accidents, diabetes, kidney failure, influenza, suicide, and murder combined.

Heart disease rates across the USA (Image courtesy CDC)

Death rates from heart disease across the USA
(Image courtesy CDC)

And heart disease takes many forms. There’s atrial fibrillation, where the top part of the heart beats in 9/7 time while the bottom part does a waltz. There’s coronary artery disease, where the pipes that lead to your heart get clogged up with fatty plaque. There’s heart failure, where the heart moves only a little blood even when your body wants a lot. And then there’s a heart attack, where your heart just throws in the towel and decides to take a rest on the sidelines for a bit.

Fortunately, there are almost as many ways to combat heart disease as there are types of heart disease. Adding just 30 minutes of light exercise each day by walking, working in the garden, or going for a bike ride, is enough to reduce the effects of heart disease by nearly 3/4. Eating a low-fat, low salt diet cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack by more than 1/3. And keeping an upbeat attitude has also been shown to improve health (and to get you more friends to share those long walks with).

Leonardo da Vicni's drawing of the human heart (Image courtesy Leonardo)

Leonardo da Vicni’s drawing of the human heart
(Image courtesy Leonardo)

Of course, there is more to having a healthy heart than just diet and exercise; genetics and other factors also play a part. And right now, a group of scientists are putting together a “big data” experiment to see just how much each of these things contributes to a healthy heart. At Health eHeart (get it?) they are asking for volunteers to take part in a study that will track participants for ten years. Every six months they’ll ask you to fill out a questionnaire on your health and will ask you to contribute information on your weight and activity level; some participants may also be given the opportunity to do cool things like wear a Holter monitor for a week or have a genetic sample taken. To join in on the fun, head over to:
https://www.health-eheartstudy.org/

March 4 – The Tell-Tale Heart

Today’s factismal: A typical human heart moves about a third of a cup of blood through the body with each beat.

Ah, the human heart. Often derided as being frail and fragile, it is in fact one of our sturdiest organs. And no wonder, considering all of the trouble that we put it to. During a typical day, an adult’s heart will beat around 100,000 times. A kid’s heart works even harder; they will beat nearly 150,000 times each day! Add it up and over the course of a typical lifetime, a human heart will beat nearly 2.5 billion times.

Leonardo da Vicni's drawing of the human heart (Image courtesy Leonardo)

Leonardo da Vicni’s drawing of the human heart
(Image courtesy Leonardo)

The heart works so hard because it has to. The heart drives the circulatory system that delivers food and oxygen throughout the body and takes wastes and carbon dioxide away to be disposed of. The blood tissue will speed from your heart to your brain and back in just eight seconds; to reach your toes and get back takes just 16 seconds. Though you’ve got just about one and a half gallons of blood in your body, it is used over and over again. Each beat of an adult’s heart moves about a third cup of blood. Over the course of a day, your heart will pump nearly 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body.

But anything that works that hard can sometimes have problems and the heart is no exception. Sometimes the valves in the heart wear out or just don’t close properly, allowing blood to leak through and reducing the flow; this is called valvular heart disease. Sometimes the heart loses its rhythm and beats irregularly; this is called an arrhythmia. Sometimes the heart doesn’t get enough blood to operate properly; this is called a myocardial infarction or “heart attack”.

Luckily, we know a lot about how to prevent these things from happening. If you get as little as thirty minutes of exercise (such as walking) each day, you’ll cut your chances of getting one of these problems by about 10%. Similarly, by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lean in alcohol and salt, you can reduce your chances of getting heart disease by nearly 20%.

Of course, there is more to having a healthy heart than just diet and exercise; genetics and other factors also play a part. And right now, a group of scientists are putting together a “big data” experiment to see just how much each of these things contributes to a healthy heart. At Health eHeart (get it?) they are asking for volunteers to take part in a study that will track participants for ten years. Every six months they’ll ask you to fill out a questionnaire on your health and will ask you to contribute information on your weight and activity level; some participants may also be given the opportunity to do cool things like wear a Holter monitor for a week or have a genetic sample taken. To join in on the fun, head over to:
https://www.health-eheartstudy.org/

February 1 – Hearty Recommendation

Today’s Factismal: Your heart will beat nearly 3,000,000,000 times during your life.

Quick! If you are a woman, gather three of your female friends. Odds are that one of the four of you has heart disease. That’s because 42.9 million women in the USA, or about 28% of the female population has heart disease. And it isn’t just women who suffer from this; about one in every twelve men has heart disease. And heart disease is the number one killer in the USA, accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths. Heart disease kills more Americans than accidents, diabetes, kidney failure, influenza, suicide, and murder combined.

And heart disease takes many forms. There’s atrial fibrillation, where the top part of the heart beats in 8/8 time while the bottom part does a waltz. There’s coronary artery disease, where the pipes that lead to your heart get clogged up with fatty plaque. There’s heart failure, where the heart moves only a little blood even when your body wants a lot. And then there’s a heart attack, where your heart just throws in the towel and decides to take a rest on the sidelines for a bit.

Fortunately, there are almost as many ways to combat heart disease as there are types of heart disease. Adding just 30 minutes of light exercise each day by walking, working in the garden, or going for a bike ride, is enough to reduce the effects of heart disease by nearly 3/4. Eating a low-fat, low salt diet cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack by more than 1/3. And keeping an upbeat attitude has also been shown to improve health (and to get you more friends to share those long walks with).

And, if you are a citizen scientist, you can also help defeat heart disease by joining Patients Like Me, a crowd-sourcing initiative to track common health problems and provide information on treatments:
http://www.patientslikeme.com/