Did you know that an average heart pumps about five litres of blood every minute? Loss of pumping effectiveness, even for a few minutes, can put an individual at risk for death.
The heart is an important part of the cardiovascular system, which is also known as the blood-vascular or circulatory system. Other main components of the system are vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries) and blood.
In the cardiovascular system, blood is pumped by the heart to run through every vessel of the cardiovascular system. This provides all organs, tissues, and cells in the body with blood, so that they get rejuvenated by oxygen and other essential nutrients; at the same time, carbon dioxide and other metabolic wastes released by the organs are carried away. Without the cardiovascular system, cells will undergo irreversible exhaustion that will eventually lead to death.
When it comes to cardiovascular health, one has to keep an eye on two basic aspects: blood pressure levels and blood cholesterol levels. In addition to blood pressure and blood cholesterol, there are several risk factors that can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease, including an unhealthy lifestyle and diet, a family history of having heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, stress, excessive alcohol consumption, and tobacco use.
Blood pressure can be explained as the force of the blood exerted against the inner walls of the blood vessels. Each time the heart pumps blood into the arteries, the pumping motion will exert pressure to force the blood to flow. Blood pressure levels vary throughout the day. It will be lower during sleep and rises when people get up and start moving. Besides that, it can also rise when someone gets excited or emotional, or is doing physical activity. The blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
According to the American Heart Association, a healthy blood pressure reading for adults should be lower than 120/80 mmHg and may vary from 90/60 mmHg to 120/80 mmHg. A blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher indicates high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a silent killer for many, as the condition usually comes without any significant symptoms. One has to constantly measure their blood pressure levels because if the condition is left untreated, it can potentially cause heart attack, stroke, and many other health risks.
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance within the blood. It is produced by the liver, intended to help the body to build new cells, insulate nerves, and produce hormones. However, too much cholesterol in the blood will lead to a high risk of cardiovascular diseases. Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). The indication of a healthy cholesterol level for an adult is less than 200 Mg/dL. Two hundred to 239Mg/dL is considered normal or slightly elevated, and 240Mg/dL or higher is considered as high in cholesterol or unhealthy.
When the cholesterol level starts to increase and is left untreated, it will build up a wall of fat within the arteries, which will very likely cause atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a kind of heart disease that narrows down the bloodstream and reduces the rate of blood flow, or simply causes blockage. One will experience tremendous chest pain when the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage; this is also widely known as a heart attack.
While ‘cardiovascular diseases are for the old’ is a common misconception among young adults, the Director General of Health Malaysia, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, states that Malaysians suffer heart attacks at a younger age compared to our neighbouring and Western countries.