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So you think you are ten feet tall and bullet-proof? Well, you’re not

My own recent experience of having a stent installed in my well-worn 61 year old body has prompted me to write about it with the hope it may just alert others to the problems and the things that you need to focus on.

It seems to me that there are about 6 risk factors for heart problems:

Weight

It is important to maintain the correct weight otherwise you are putting strain on your heart.

Exercise

We need almost daily exercise sufficient to elevate the heart rate and get our body moving.

Cholesterol

More on that later, but this is the big one.

Genes

Heart problems are passed from one generation to the next and it's a huge factor in our ongoing problems.

Blood Pressure

Sounds like we should not be too much over 120 over 80. Apparently 140 over 90 is okay for 60 year olds.

Stress

Apparently some stress is good for us. The stuff that makes us get up in the morning and gets us excited is good. But some stress is bad.

There was a brilliant article in the New Zealand Listener, June 14-20th 2008 on these issues. There they identified bad stress is the stuff we cannot do anything about. Professor Harvey White exampled bad stress as accidents, death of family, death of friends, not being able to meet our mortgage payments and so on.

I personally have also noticed that men who have been through grumpy marriage-breaks appear more regularly with heart trouble.

Cholesterol is the killer. We are born with 1.5. Our lifestyle sees it up to 5's, 6's and 7's. The World Health Organisation recognises less than 5 as being ideal. Chinese farmers have 1.5 while the urbanites are 3.5. Cholesterol builds up as plaque in the bloodstream which, if left untreated, starts to sludge up the cardio-vascular system.

Once sludged we can get blocked arteries that can be fixed with stents. Badly blocked arteries cannot be stented and require dramatic and invasive surgery. Sometimes a piece of sludge or plaque will let go. Particularly in stress situations. If this piece of plaque gets caught up in the heart and starves the heart of oxygen then it's a heart attack and damage will and can occur. If it gets caught in the brain then it's a stroke. Then damage can or will occur.

There are all sorts of variations and conditions around this but this sort of cuts to the chase for we farming-type people.

Now I am going to go left and liken our body to the humble water pump on the farm. The pump is the heart, the water pipes our veins and arteries and the animals drinking our muscles and organs.

The pump goes 24/7. It is subject to varying demands requiring increased and decreased speed in accordance with the requirements.

The pipes turn from the pump when new and clean when first put in. But years of dirty water and putting salts into the water system start to form deposits and sludge them up. More than that, the pipes are subject to stress. Examples might include tree roots compressing them, pipes being driven over continually by heavy vehicle and being left out in the sun.

Now, the animals may all drink at the same time on a hot day causing the pump to speed up. This may assist with keeping the sludge washed out of the pipes (exercise). If there are only a few animals drinking the same amount all the time and the water flows at a slower rate then that is different (lack of exercise).

The pump needs to be in a clean, airy shed (no smoking). It needs to be well serviced (rest and holidays) and needs to be away from chemicals and other problem areas. It needs to be in a cool, dry place with a steady and adequate supply of power (food and sleep).

Blocked pipes and floating lumps in the water equal heart attack or stroke. Squashed pipes and sludge lead to trouble. Inadequate rest etc will lead to more trouble. You can see where I am going with this. It's just trying to liken our bodies to something that we understand better.

As humans we just think we can take on more and more, looking after ourselves less and less, and survive. Not so. Continued stress, high cholesterol and unresolved issues will kill you.

For us men admitting we have a problem is huge. Remember we are bullet-proof. It shows weakness to admit we are short of breath or having arm and leg or chest pains. It took me 4 months from noticing it to getting to my GP. It took a week from the Stress ECG that I had to having the stent put in. I have met other men who have never admitted to it until they were lying on the pavement with chest pains having heart attacks.

We need to be more aware and have a more realistic view of ourselves and get professional help if warning signs appear. This should be immediate, not later.

There's a few things that I have learned which may help others understand.
    A resting ECG won't tell you if you have blocked arteries or veins. You need to elevate your heart and it will tell immediately if things are blocked up. This is called a Stress ECG.
    I understand we should all be taking Cartia. This is an aspirin based product which helps to keep our blood thinned out and keeps us alive better.
    There is life after having a stent put in place. It's a relatively simple procedure and thank goodness for modern medicine.
    If your doctor suggests you should take cholesterol reducing tablets then I strongly recommend that you do. It's the cholesterol in our blood that gets us. Our modern lifestyles seem to make us high in cholesterol and more prone to blocked arteries etc.
In summary, we need to try and understand this stuff. That is why I liken our body to the water pump, pipes and stock drinking. The sooner we admit we have signs and get to the doctor the better. We are fortunate to live in 2008 when they have all these amazing machines that will fix us easily and allow us to live a normal and fruitful life after the operation.

We southern, macho, testosterone driven and proud men need to realise we are not bullet-proof and ten feet tall.


 

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