Mr. Ho, a recent retiree, engaged his old buddies in a basketball game. He was so enthusiastic that he went right to the action without doing any proper warm-up.
While he was about to make a three-point shot, he felt a sudden chest pain and found it hard to breathe. His friends immediately called for an ambulance.
The doctor at the emergency department told Ho that he was in an early stage of heart failure, which was due to some problems with the heart muscle that resulted in weaker pumping action and thus poorer transport of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
After a thorough examination, Ho was also diagnosed with high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels and high blood lipids – the three highs.
High blood pressure and high blood sugar could induce cardiovascular disease, while cholesterol in the blood could build up, thickening the walls of the arteries, a medical condition known as atherosclerosis.
When coronary arteries narrowed, blood supply to the heart muscle would be reduced, and that would adversely affect the functions of the heart and could lead to heart failure.
People with an early stage of heart failure might not even experience any symptoms.
But when they engage in more vigorous activities, they might have heart palpitations, chest pain or discomfort.
If the blockage in the blood vessels is serious, they would experience racing heartbeat, intensified chest pain, breathlessness and pulmonary edema. It might lead to sudden death.
Treatments for heart failure are aimed at controlling the symptoms. These include medication as well as changes in lifestyle and eating habits. In serious cases, surgery may be required.
Depending on the seriousness of the condition, the doctor would prescribe diuretics, anticoagulants or ACE inhibitors. Patients must follow the prescriptions strictly.
On top of taking medicine, making healthy lifestyle changes is equally important in slowing the symptoms.
Ho has now quit smoking and drinking, and cut down his consumption of fat and salt in his diet to reduce the burden on his heart.
He also does regular exercises to strengthen his cardio-pulmonary functions.
He is also encouraged to pick up a hobby for relaxation and emotional support.
For patients whose condition is caused by damage or other problems with the heart valves and seriously blocked vessels, they might have to receive heart valve surgery or a bypass surgery.
Heart disease is a silent killer. Patients should take charge of their physical condition by taking regular measurements of blood pressure, blood lipids and blood glucose levels.
If they don’t have the devices at home, they should consult their family doctor or go to an outpatient clinic for risk assessments for the three highs.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 17.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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