Categories
Self-care

Your Heart: What Have You Done for It Lately?

IMG_3960We all play favourites.

We look at the attractive, we hang out with the most fun, and we take for granted the reliable and dependable in our lives that are always there day after day.

What is your favourite organ?

You may not choose two of the most important – your brain and heart, but the rest of you couldn’t survive without them.

With every beat, your heart keeps every cell of your body alive, pumping blood freshly oxygenated by your lungs. If your heart stopped pumping or an artery was blocked, you would suffer a stroke, blindness, organ failure or the loss of your legs.

So take a moment to think about your heart. What have you done for it lately?

You can increase your odds for a long and happy life by thinking about your heart as you should your most important relationships. Are you paying attention? Are you showing care each day? Are you working to make it great?

  1. Listening (for Trouble)

Sometimes, it’s obvious when something is wrong – irregular heart beats with lightheadedness; pain or pressure on exertion in your chest, throat or arms.

Sometimes the signs are subtle and mistaken for normal aging – or being married a long time: fatigue or exhaustion, feeling out of shape and short of breath, calf pain while walking, and decreased sexual function.

Before considering vitamins, Viagra or marriage counseling, see your doctor.

  1. How Do You Care for Your Heart?

The best predictor of your future health are (1) the health of your parents and (2) the habits you practice today.

If a parent or sibling had heart surgery, a heart attack or heart failure, you should ask your doctor to assess your personal risk factors, including high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Are you living a life that minimizes risks? Care for your heart by limiting salt, alcohol and a lazy, leisurely lifestyle. Don’t sacrifice long term health for short-term pleasure.

Enjoy the rewards of daily healthy living. Eat more fruits and vegetables and other foods that really make you feel good. If you can sit, stand. If you can stand, walk. If you can walk: run, swim or cycle.

Butt out, get outside and live.

  1. Make a Good Thing Great

Why settle for good enough when you can get great?

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and you don’t know great ‘til you’ve got it.

Your heart is another muscle you can train. Unless you’ve already been a world-class athlete, none of us knows what we can achieve.

When you’re fit and strong, everyday life is easier. You’ll have plenty of energy to shop, clean, mow the lawn, get out and dance. Everyday tasks – climbing a flight of stairs, lifting and moving – become effortless and fast.

For those with heart disease or its risk factors, Healthy Heart programs in your community can safely move you to your fittest state.

Be the best you can be today.

To learn more about “What You Should Know About Heart Disease”, come to my next free public lecture on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients series. You’ll learn if you are at increased risk, practical tips to reduce your risks and how to maintain your best health in spite of heart disease.

I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, March 30th at 7 p.m. at the Alan Emmott Centre at 6650 Southoaks Crescent in South Burnaby. Register online with lcullen@divisionsbc.ca or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News newspapers. 

Categories
Burnaby Division of Family Practice Empowering Healthcare Exercise Physical Activity Preventive Health

What do you know about heart failure?

Davidicus Wong's Black Bag

What do you know about heart failure?

If you’re like most people, not enough.

In fact, it is believed that most people who have heart failure are not even aware of it. It is estimated that 30% of those who have heart failure but are not aware of it will go on to develop full blown symptoms requiring urgent medical care within the next three years.

The overall one-year mortality rate (risk of dying) for patients diagnosed with heart failure is 30%. The risk is higher with those with three or more other chronic health conditions (up to 50%) and higher still in the elderly (up to 61%).

But patients who are informed and engaged in self-management in partnership with their family physicians have much better outcomes – slower disease progression and fewer hospitalizations.

Your heart is a muscular organ that acts as a pump. The right side of the heart receives blood returning from the body through veins and pumps this oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs. Oxygen-rich blood then returns to the left side of the heart which delivers it to the rest of the body (including the brain) through the arteries.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is due to the decline in the pumping ability of the heart. This results in shortness of breath when blood backs up into the lungs, edema (or fluid retention) particularly in the legs and feet when blood backs up into the extremities, and fatigue because less blood is getting to the brain, muscles and organs.

The most common causes of heart failure are high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries). Because the effects of these chronic conditions accumulate over time, the onset of symptoms is often gradual, unrecognized or mistaken for normal aging or deconditioning.

Other causes for heart failure include irregular heart rhythms, smoking, obesity, thyroid disease and excessive alcohol. Less common causes include disease of the heart muscle following viral infections, as side effects of medications (including some types of chemotherapy) or due to metabolic conditions such as hemochromatosis (iron overload).

In addition to the symptoms of fatigue, fluid retention and shortness of breath with physical activity, another classical symptom is shortness of breath when lying flat. In patients with worsening heart failure, blood fills the lungs unless they are sitting upright.

Several classes of medications have been shown to improve both the survival and quality of life in heart failure. These include beta blockers and ACE inhibitors. The condition requires close medical follow-up and regular monitoring.

Individuals with heart failure can maintain their health with diligent self-care and lifestyle management, monitoring their weight to pick up on fluid retention that may indicate a sudden worsening of their condition; limiting salt, alcohol and fluid intake, and maintaining regular appropriate exercise.

To learn more about “What You Should Know About Heart Disease”, come to my next free public lecture on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients series. You’ll learn if you are at increased risk, practical tips to reduce your risks and how to maintain your best health in spite of heart disease.

I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, March 30th at 7 p.m. at the Alan Emmott Centre at 6650 Southoaks Crescent in South Burnaby. Register online with lcullen@divisionsbc.ca or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.

Categories
Empowering Healthcare Healthy Living Preventive Health

Are you at risk for heart disease?

Tapestry Foundation, VanDusen Garden September 10th, 2015

Are you at risk for heart disease?

The simple answer is yes. We all are.

As we age, so do our blood vessels. With advancing years, plaque accumulates within the arteries that supply the heart muscle (causing angina and heart attacks), our brains (causing dementia and strokes) and our extremities (causing peripheral vascular disease).

If we are lucky enough not to die from accidents, cancer or dementia, by the time we are in our 80s, we are likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.

But some of us are at much higher risk for premature heart disease.

Most of the causes are modifiable – meaning we can reduce our risks through healthy living or medications. We can’t change our age, but we can slow down the aging process. We can’t choose our parents, but knowing family history can empower us to be proactive – to identify and modify our risk factors.

When we think about cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) risk. The first place to start is with family history. We consider first degree relatives (parents and siblings), multiple generations and the ages at which they were diagnosed.

In general, premature heart disease is an event (such as a heart attack) in a male under 55 or a female under 65. Increased family risk may also be indicated by heart disease in each generation (e.g. your father, his mother and maternal aunts and uncles).

Some people think of family history with a sense of fatalism.

One patient, whose father and paternal uncles all died in their 40s, expected to die soon after his 40th birthday. It didn’t stop him from smoking.

But a strong family history is like a visit from Christmas Future. That might be your fate if you don’t make changes today. A family history of heart disease should encourage us to be proactive, identify the particular risk factors common in the family tree and treat them early.

Common hereditary conditions that predispose us to premature atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) are high blood pressure, diabetes, high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol. All of these conditions can be identified early and when appropriately treated with healthy eating, appropriate monitoring and medications, we can reduce or eliminate the increased risk.

The more details you know about your family history the better. Some people only know that their parents had heart conditions. Heart disease might refer to several distinct conditions.

Angina refers to chest pain due to narrowed coronary arteries (These are the blood vessels that supply the muscle of the heart). If those arteries are narrowed, the individual may feel chest pain or pressure with exercise or stress, both of which raise the heart rate and make the heart muscle work harder. The pain is due to ischemia (insufficient blood flow).

A heart attack or a myocardial infarction is the result of a complete obstruction of a coronary artery. When no blood flows at all to an area of the heart muscle, the muscle dies and no longer functions. With a massive heart attack, an artery supplying a large area of cardiac muscle is blocked and the heart can no longer pump blood to the brain and the rest of the body.

Heart failure refers to a significant decline in the pumping function of the heart. When the heart is too weak to pump blood throughout the body, the individual feels short of breath and weak. When the pump is failing, blood backs up into the lungs and extremities, causing swelling of the feet and legs and chest congestion, especially when lying down.

Valvular heart disease refers to abnormalities of one or more of the valves (pulmonary, aortic, mitral or tricuspid) between the chambers of the heart. A valve can be narrowed (e.g. aortic stenosis) or leaky (e.g. mitral regurgitation). Valvular heart disease is associated with murmurs (sounds heard with the stethoscope due to turbulent blood flow). Patients may experience chest pain or shortness of breath.

To learn more about “What You Should Know About Heart Disease”, come to my next free public lecture on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients series. You’ll learn if you are at increased risk, practical tips to reduce your risks and how to maintain your best health in spite of heart disease.

I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, March 30th at 7 p.m. at the Alan Emmott Centre at 6650 Southoaks Crescent in South Burnaby. Register online with lcullen@divisionsbc.ca or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in the Burnaby Now, Vancouver Courier, Royal City Record and Richmond News.

Aneroid BP

Categories
Compassion Forgiveness Happiness Letting Go Love Uncategorized

The magic of self-compassion

IMG_8338
St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

Sometimes what we long for is right in front of us, and like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we already have what we need.

Each day, I see patients searching for a solution to their suffering that can come as feelings of emptiness, anxiety, stress, low self-esteem or depression. They may expect that solution to come in the form of medication or counseling.

An example is the burnt out accountant or business owner, giving 100% of himself to his work, leaving nothing for friends, family or self. Another is the perfectionistic student, struggling to keep up with her extracurricular achievements and maintain an A+ average.

There are many unhappy in their own bodies, concerned about their weight or magnifying perceived imperfections. Some with wavy hair like it straight; those with straight hair want the waves. Some with big body parts want them smaller. Some with smaller body parts want them bigger.

When you look at those you love unconditionally – children, parents and friends, do you wish them to look different or “better” or to be anything other than who they are?

What we all need is self-compassion, an essential aspect of emotional wellbeing.

It’s not what we usually think about when we say self-love that most might associate with narcissism – a self-centred obsession with a superficial self.

Self-compassion is an extension of the authentic love we more freely give to others.

Through the habits of negative self-talk, guilt, perfectionism or self-neglect, we can become our own worse critics and fail to give ourselves the care we need.

Through the magic of self-compassion, our world becomes a better place – even if nothing else has changed. We struggle less. We are happier, less judgmental and more accepting of our selves and others. When we look in the mirror, we smile instead of furrowing our brows.

How can you nurture self-compassion?

Practice this lovingkindness meditation borrowed from Buddhism. Picture someone you care about, someone who makes you smile when you think of them – a child, parent or friend, and say in your mind, “May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.”

You can nurture compassion for others, by imagining their faces and saying, “May you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.” Foster self-compassion by saying, “May I be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.”

Be mindful of critical, judgmental thoughts towards others and yourself. One key to a happier marriage is to offer five honest positive comments for every negative one. Be a good partner to yourself.

A good parent ensures the children are well fed, exercise, play safe and get enough sleep, yet so many good parents don’t extend that care to themselves. Be a good parent to yourself – eat well, don’t skip meals, avoid recreational drugs and limit alcohol. Engage in daily exercise and get enough rest.

Being human, we are by nature imperfect yet we are still beautiful and worthy of love. Be kind to yourself, and may you be happy, healthy, peaceful and safe.

Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in Burnaby Now, Vancouver Courier, Royal City Record and Richmond News. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at www.davidicuswong.wordpress.com.