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Dr Duncan

Heart health

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It’s one of the first things a new Mum sees on the Ultrasound of her unborn child – a tiny heart beating at about the 6 week ante-natal check up. And that tiny heart will not stop beating for the next eight decades, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So although it quietly gets on with its job deep within your chests from the earliest moments in life, it’s much less likely to cause you problems if you look after it from the earliest possible times. And that means infancy.

Looking after your heart isn’t something that you should start to do once you’ve reached the venerable age of 40 and begin to see life as an inevitable “downhill process”: these days 40 is the new 30 and there is still a great deal of living to do – just ask anyone who is in their 70’s! But if you have a heart attack at around the age of 40 then life takes on a much more different complexion!

Heart attacks don’t just come “out of the blue” in mid-life, the environment for heart disease starts way back in our early years and it’s in these early years that perhaps we can have a healthier impact on our future lives, instead of waiting to take cholesterol lowering medications and aspirin after the proverbial horse has bolted!

Some very basic things need to be ingrained in our children from the moment they begin to respond to their surroundings:
1. Eat a healthy, appropriate diet.
2. Avoid over-eating.
3. Be active and learn to play outside.
4. Avoid tobacco smoke.

Obviously, in the early part of life children will do what their parents do, so it behoves the parents to do all of the above to because those little eyes are watching everything you do and they will copy what they see!

If we can be successful with these simple rules, then the burden of heart disease will fall dramatically in the years ahead as well as the needless suffering caused to individuals and families by life-changing cardiac episodes. In the meantime, there is still work to be done for all those who do have heart problems and for those who continue to be at high risk of developing heart disease. And heart disease is not just coronary heart disease – which we associate with heart attacks – but there are also those who still suffer from Rheumatic Heart disease, which is another preventable disease and yet is still rife in certain vulnerable communities.

Then is also a group of conditions called Cardiomyopathies – literally a weakness of the heart muscle that may lead to heart failure because the muscle has become too weak to effectively pump the blood around our bodies. Although we have insight into many of the reasons behind cardiomyopathy, as yet we don’t have too many tools to prevent some of these diseases, which means that Doctors still have to manage patients with failing hearts and give them the best possible quality of life.

Here are a few practical things that I think will help everyone in the community:

  • Learn CPR. There are basic courses in CPR run by the Red Cross and the Heart Foundation that can skill you in the best current CPR practice and may well help you save someone’s life! I believe that CPR should be a part of the High School curriculum and if you agree with me then have a chat with your school Principal.
  • If you use a gym or any sporting facility, or shop at any large shopping centre then ask whether they have a Defibrillator on site. These are appearing in more and more centres and they will save lives. If there isn’t one there, then politely suggest that there should be!
  • Check out your own family tree! Unfortunately, heart disease does have a genetic base and if it does run in your family then you should live a heart healthy life from the earliest possible moment. That heart disease is in your family doesn’t mean that you will get it, but it does increase the risk – so as my dear old Mum used to say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure!
  • Be fit, stay lean and eat great healthy food that will benefit your overall health.
  • Never smoke, try to avoid smoke-filled environments and teach your children to do the same. Check out my post on “Going to War Against Smoking”.
  • If you do have risk factors or do suffer from heart disease, listen to the experts because they have accumulated an enormous amount of wisdom from their years of study – so they can be trusted!
“Alternative medicines” might be proven to be of benefit in the future, but at this stage the evidence is not in for them, so my suggestion is to always to build on solid foundations, and the Heart Foundation is a pretty solid example of that!

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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