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Back Behind the Wheel: Heart Disease

Did you know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer in Canada? It shouldn't be a surprise, since obesity, hypertension, stress and other risk factors for CVD are so common. In 2001 CVD accounted for 74,824 deaths in Canada. An...

Did you know that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer in Canada? It shouldn’t be a surprise, since obesity, hypertension, stress and other risk factors for CVD are so common. In 2001 CVD accounted for 74,824 deaths in Canada. An estimated one in four Canadians has some form of CVD.

Truck drivers are at a higher risk for CVD, due to the nature of the job and the lifestyle that is associated with it. Obviously, being a professional driver is not a sentence for CVD, but it should be a concern. There are many different types of CVD, but the two that I am going to focus on are heart disease (heart attack) and stroke (next month). Hopefully, after you have read the column, you will be informed and better equipped to lower your risk of CVD.

Cardio (heart) vascular (blood vessels) disease is a broad term that encompasses any disease that affects the heart and vascular systems of the body. Common conditions associated with the heart are coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies (diseases of heart muscle) and Valvular heart disease (valves). Some vascular conditions include aneurysms, strokes and high blood pressure. Although CVD, for the most part, can be prevented, some conditions are congenital (born with) and there is nothing you can do to prevent it.

Your heart weighs between 200 to 425 grams and is the size of your fist. It is located on the left side of your body, and protected by your ribs. In a lifetime, your heart will beat 3.5 billion times, supplying blood to your entire body. On average the heart beats 100,000 per day, pumping around 7,571 litres. Wow! Your heart has four chambers, which the blood from your lungs travels through, before it is pumped through your body. Blood passes through the lungs to pick up oxygen, which is required for the body to function.

So, what is a heart attack? A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the heart muscle is severely impaired or reduced. When this occurs, the heart is unable to function, because it is not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients. There are four main arteries (coronary arteries) that supply the heart with blood. Over the course of a lifetime these arteries can become clogged with clumps of fat, cholesterol and atherosclerotic plaques, which will cause the blood flow to be reduced. Once these arteries become too clogged up you start experiencing symptoms that warn you that a heart attack is imminent. When this occurs, heart bypass surgery is needed to restore blood flow to the heart. Interestingly, these arteries can be 95 per cent blocked, but still able to provide enough blood to the heart, allowing it to keep on beating.

It is important to recognize the symptoms associated with heart attacks. Usually, you will experience squeezing chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, jaw pain, radiation pain into the left arm, profuse sweating and back pain. If you are experience several of these symptoms at once, contact your doctor immediately or visit the nearest hospital.

A heart attack can happen at any time, and can be fatal 50 per cent of the time. Recognizing these symptoms and visiting your doctor immediately will dramatically improve your chance of surviving a heart attack. Denying that you may have symptoms associated with heart disease can cost you your life.

There are many risk factors that increase your chances of having a heart attack. Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, lack of physical activity, obesity and diabetes are just a few. Essentially, having an unhealthy lifestyle (poor diet, no exercise) increases your risk of CVD dramatically. To reduce your risk of heart disease, eat healthy, quit smoking and exercise regularly.

This is a lifestyle change, which you have to follow. Being healthy for a couple of months, weeks or days, is a start, but it has to be a lifelong change. The sooner you start, the better you will feel and your chances for developing any type of CVD will be reduced.

Heart disease is a condition that can be prevented. After reading this column I hope that you will have a better understanding of what heart disease is and how to prevent it. If you have any questions e-mail me or speak to your doctor. Until next month take care and drive safely!

– Dr. Jerry Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 1 (888) 252-7327, or e-mail

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