This season of merriment hazardous to our heartBy Charles E. Buban
Philippine Daily Inquirer
THE FILIPINOS celebrate the longest Christmas season in the world, beginning as early as September and extending until January of the following year. Because of this interesting fact, we are also looking at the longest period when the country may experience the most number of heart attack cases.
Dr. Adolfo Bellosillo, a noted cardiologist and president and founder of the Foundation of Lay Education on Heart Diseases, said: “Indeed, the heart attack season has arrived. Overeating, drinking too much alcohol, reduced exercise, emotional stress associated with the holiday season, among other things, can all contribute to the onset of heart attack or stroke over the holidays. What is worse is the fact that people may delay getting treatment so as not to make a fuss over the holidays.”
Bellosillo also noted the fact that many Filipinos partake in holiday travel, which can lead to inadequate medical care as well as missed medications or doses.
The doctor said: “This is a very stressful time of the year and many people will put off their regular medical care or delay care they might actually need. However, you can’t be too busy or too stressed to ignore your cardiovascular health,” said the doctor.
Bellosillo also sees a spike in heart attack once the weather starts to turn. “When temperatures drop, blood vessels tend to constrict, raising blood pressure. You may want to think twice before you decide to get an early morning heavy workout at dawn, as strenuous physical activity can leave you clutching your chest. Warm up first,” he said.
But colder weather isn’t the only culprit as many Filipinos confuse the signs of a heart attack—like shortness of breath or chest pains—with indigestion from a sumptuous dinner.
The most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. This includes new chest pain or discomfort, or a change in the pattern of existing chest pain or discomfort.
While heart attack pain sometimes feels like indigestion or heartburn, take notice of a discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that often lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
Bellosillo noted: “The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. The feeling can be mild or severe. But what is much harder to do is to will yourself to go to the emergency room as this may seem like too much of a hassle on such a big holiday.”
Other common signs and symptoms of a heart attack include new onset of upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach; shortness of breath, which may occur with or before chest discomfort; nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness or breaking out in a cold sweat; or sleep problems, fatigue (tiredness) or lack of energy.
The doctor said: “Know these warning signs of a heart attack so you can act fast to get treatment for yourself or someone else. The sooner you get emergency help, the less damage your heart will sustain. But do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Better yet, call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.”
Bellosillo said that if you had a heart attack, eating right could protect you from having a second one. According to new research in the American Heart Association Journal Circulation, those who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish reduced their chances of dying from cardiovascular disease by 35 percent.
Those who ate heart healthy diet also had a 14 percent lower risk of a new heart attack and a 19 percent lower risk of stroke.
Bellosillo reminded revelers to keep track of the number of servings that they eat during the holidays—usually the portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs—adding that eating more of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and less of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods, can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.
The doctor added: “Filipinos need to try to stay healthy through the holidays, not wait until Jan. 1 or the Feast of the Three Kings. You can’t keep your resolution if you don’t live through the holidays.”
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