Valve Disease Day

Heart valve disease is a generic term for any instance or event of heart valve malfunction. It includes both congenital and acquired abnormalities and applies to all four of the heart’s valves (aortic, mitral, pulmonary, and tricuspid). The three types of valvular ailments are enumerated below:

  1. Prolapse: When a structure prolapses, it falls down or forward. In the case of a heart valve, this means that the leaflets thereof do not close properly during myocardial contraction, flopping or bulging outwards instead. Often times, this leads to a condition known as regurgitation where blood leaks backwards into the chamber from which it came. In most cases, prolapse is relatively benign, resulting in a mere murmur or mild palpitations and warranting little to no treatment. It is commonly a phenomenon of the mitral valve, but technically, all valves are susceptible.
  2. Stenosis: A stenotic valve is narrowed and hardened. This makes it harder for blood to travel through the valve; consequently, corresponding chambers have to exert more force to achieve their purpose, which, in time, will lead to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and/or heart failure. Regurgitation can also occur. Generally, stenosis affects the aortic and pulmonary valves (particularly in congenital cases), but it can occur in the other valves as well. Stenosis is a much more serious condition than valvular prolapse, and it is consequently treated much more aggressively. Surgical intervention (keyhole or open heart) is often needed, and although valvuloplasties provide a temporary relief, the aim is either replacement or repair; valvular stenosis can also be the underlying cause of problems that warrant other surgeries including but not limited pacemaker implantation and complete heart transplants.
  3. Atresia: Similar to stenosis, atresia is an abnormal closure of a bodily passage; the term is typically used to refer to mal- or non-formed heart valves where (nearly) solid sheets of tissue disrupt blood flow. It is typically a congenital condition, and it is most frequently seen in the pulmonary valve. Cases of atresia require immediate surgical attention; catheterization treatments include radiofrequency ablation, balloon valvotomy and/or sepsotomy, and stent placement while the open-heart options feature procedures such as shunting, the Glenn repair, and the Fontan procedure; in some cases, a complete heart transplant may be necessary.

All of the above share relatively similar symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, weakness, palpitations (and other non-perceived arrhythmias), heart murmurs, angina, edema (especially in cases of stenosis), and cyanosis (especially in instances of pulmonary atresia). They also have common risk factors including age, hypertension, diabetes, drug use, and an unhealthy body mass; connective tissue disorders (such as Marfan Syndrome), pre-existing heart disease (e.g. a history of myocardial infarction and/or atherosclerosis), and prolonged infection also predispose patients to valvular illness; congenital defects, although themselves idiopathic, are also causes. If you experience any of the aforelisted symptoms or display any of the above risk factors, consult a doctor immediately. These ailments are diagnosable through uninvasive, relatively inexpensive tests (a physical exam, an EKG, and an echocardiogram). Getting heart-checked does not take long, and it might just save your life–this Valve Disease Day and every day!

World Heart Day

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, killing an appalling 17.5 million people a year? Did you know that every forty seconds one person in America will have a heart attack? Did you know that 657 people in the United Kingdom will have a stroke today? Did you know that over 25% of Australian men suffer from hypertension? Did you know that heart disease costs the Canadian economy over $20.9 billion annually? Did you know that a quarter of all deaths in India can be attributed to cardiovascular disease? Did you know that heart disease takes twice as many lives as cancer in Malaysia? Did you know that over half the Mexican population is at risk for heart disease? Did you know that 278,933 Russian males died of coronary heart disease in 2009? Did you know that 26 million individuals suffer from heart failure? Did you know that 1 in 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect? Did you know that 42 million women worldwide have a heart condition? Did you know that 98% of people do not survive out of hospital cardiac arrests? Did you know that things are only getting worse?

Heart disease is on rise. There has been a 60 million to 1 billion person increase in cases of uncontrolled hypertension between 1980 and the present. 1 in 10 school aged children are now overweight. 7% of the world smokes cigarettes. 23% of adults do not get the recommended amount of physical activity. Diabetes has increased in many countries by 50% in the past ten years. These risk factors, combined with the aging population, urbanisation, and inadequate prevention, are leading to a cardiovascular epidemic. By 2030, heart disease will have an annual death toll 24 million as well as a global economic burden of $1044 billion. These statistics are terrifying, and it is time we start taking heart disease seriously.

So ask yourself, are you at risk? Is your weight healthy? Do you follow your national heart association’s recommended exercise guidelines? Are you a non-smoker who drinks less then 14 units of alcohol weekly? Is your cholesterol below 200 mg/dL? Is your blood pressure 120/80 or lower? Are your electrolytes and blood sugar within the normal ranges? If you answered no to any of these questions, you are, indeed, at risk. Go see a cardiologist as soon as possible. You should also schedule an appointment immediately if you experience any of the following: chest pain (angina) or discomfort, palpitations, shortness of breath, arm/jaw/stomach pain, any cardiac arrhythmia, fatigue, nausea, and/or sweating. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Please, please be heart smart this World Heart Day. Know your numbers, get heart checked, and commit to a healthy lifestyle. Protect yourself and those you love. I know you may think you’re invincible, but heart disease can happen to anyone; don’t let it be you. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a happy, healthy World Heart Day!

Cupcakes-&-Cardiology-Simran-Frontain-73

Rebirthday

I died on August 29th of last year. My heart stopped, and anorexia killed me. I was technically dead for three minutes.The doctors didn’t think I would make it. I was too far gone. The defibrillators weren’t working; my heart was too damaged; I would never recover from anorexia. Why bother trying? They called my cardiologist to tell her patient had died; she told them to try one more time.

They did, and that’s when the miracle happened. That’s when my heart started beating again; that’s when my lungs started breathing again. That’s when I opened my eyes; that’s when I learned to see. There were sparkles on the ceiling and jewel-drops in my eyes. There was a buzzing in my ears and a million voices in my head; I could hear them all clearly, and they were telling me the truth–the cold, hard, cement-stairwell truth: They told me I couldn’t go on like this; they told me I had to recover. 

And they were right; I knew they were. I couldn’t go on like this, and I didn’t want to. I had to make a change; I had to do this once and for all; I had to recover. 

And so on August 29th, 2016, after ten long years, I finally began my recovery journey. I sought the help of a dietician, psychologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, psychiatrist, general practitioner, and liver specialist. I underwent extensive physical and psychological therapy. I gained thirty-eight pounds. I got in touch with my emotions. I learned to eat and exercise in moderation. I found freedom with food and within myself. I broke away from anorexia, and I came back to life.

I was reborn on August 29th of last year. My heart started, and I beat anorexia. I’ve been alive for approximately 525,600 minutes. I survived. The doctors saved me; my heart conditions are now managed with medications; I am recovering from anorexia. Who would’ve thought? I made it out alive, and you can, too. 

‘Tis the Season: Heart Health and the Holidays

‘Tis the season for gingerbread, candy canes, presents, snowmen, joy, good cheer… and, apparently, heart attacks! Yes, according to the American Heart Association, more heart attacks occur during the holidays than any other time of year (with Christmas logging the most heart attacks per day annually!). Take extra good care of your heart this year and make your holiday one of stories not statistics. Read on to find out how:

  • Stay warm: When it’s cold, your arteries constrict to preserve heat; the flow of oxygenated blood to and from the heart is thusly decreased, forcing the heart muscle to work harder. Sudden temperature changes (e.g. stepping out into the cold or participating in the polar plunge) can trigger a heart attack in predisposed persons. Additionally, prolonged exposure to the cold can result in frostbite and/or hypothermia, causing tissue death and even freezing the heart muscle so it can’t contract. Bundle up!
  • Don’t overdo it: There are so many winter sports–skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, tubing, and my personal favorite, ice skating! While many of these activities are wonderful ways to get exercise, they can do more harm than good. Since your heart is already strained by the chilly temperature, it is easy to overexert yourself and inadvertently trigger dangerous arrhythmias, arterial spasms, and consequent cardiac ischemia. Be careful!
  • Follow the rules: The holidays present lots of temptations and distractions. It’s easy to get caught up in the bustle and forget to take your meds, or skip your workout, or accidentally eat that thing you’re banned from. Don’t! Set reminders for yourself on your phone, find a buddy to hold you accountable, put up sticky notes, whatever–as long as you’re following doctor’s orders. They really do know best!
  • Take precautions: At Christmas, we exchange germs as well as gifts. The flu is awful for everyone, but it can be especially harmful to those with heart disease. Ask your cardiologist if you’re healthy enough for a flu shot. If you are not, stay away from sick people and wash your hands frequently in order to avoid contracting the influenza virus. You should also inform your cardiologist of planned air travel and intended alcohol consumption, as they can respectively increase the risk of blood clots and mimic feelings of warmth. If you do fly or drink, take the necessary precautions like blood thinners and extra coats. It is better to be safe than sorry!
  • Minimize stress: With family reunions, Christmas shopping, and airport lines, the holidays can take an emotional toll on us as well. Emotional stress causes physical stress, notably a raise in heart rate and blood pressure due to adrenaline release. Severe emotions including stress can trigger chest pain (stable angina), palpitations, and ‘broken heart syndrome’, a type of cardiomyopathy where part of the heart enlarges temporarily; a heart attack, stroke, or cardiac arrest could result. Deal with stress immediately, or you may become reliant on maladaptive coping mechanisms such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or eating disorders, all of which will further damage your heart.
  • Be aware: Take time to check in with yourself. Register how you’re feeling and act accordingly. If snow shovelling’s got you tired, take a break. If your family won’t bug off, get some alone time and breathe. If you’re cold, put on some gloves. If you’re feeling a bit peckish, eat a festive snack. If you experience chest pain or any other symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

Thank you for reading! Have a happy and healthy holidays!


Recipe: Chocolate Tofu Pie

Tofu in pie? It sounds weird, I know, but trust me when I say it’s wonderful.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 3/4 cup chocolate wafer cookies (or chocolate graham crackers), crushed
  2. 1/3 cup coconut oil
  3. 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  4. 12.3 ounces (1 package) tofu, drained and blotted dry
  5. 1/2 cup soy milk, unsweetened preferred
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  8. 1/8 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, mash chocolate wafer cookies. Combine cookie crumbs with coconut oil and two tablespoons of cocoa powder. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie pan, making sure the crust is spread evenly.
  3. Bake for 18-20 minutes and then cool for at least an hour.
  4. Melt chocolate chips either atop the stove or in the microwave. If you are microwaving the chips, do so in 1/6 cup or less increments and microwave no longer than ten seconds to avoid burning. For the stovetop approach, simmer water in a sauce pan and place a metal bowl on top of it; melt the chips in said bowl, stirring often with a spatula.
  5. In a food processor or blender, combine chocolate, tofu, salt, vanilla, cocoa powder, and soy milk. Blend/pulse until thoroughly mixed. Pour into crusted pie pan.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours prior to serving. Garnish with whipped cream and berries if desired.

Recipe: Microwave ‘Baked’ Potato

Because ovens are hard and I’m hungry now.


Ingredients:

  1. 1 large potato
  2. 1 cup mixed vegetables
  3. 1/4 cup sour cream (or 1/2 cup Greek yogurt for a lower fat, higher protein option!)
  4. 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  5. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  6. 1 tablespoon butter
  7. Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Stab the large potato seven times with a fork. This is fun and a great way to channel your rage; it also allows the moisture to escape during the cooking process.
  2. Put one tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl. Roll the potato in the oil, sprinkling it with salt as you go.
  3. Place the potato in a microwave safe dish and microwave for five minutes. Once the five minutes have past, flip the potato over and microwave for another five minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized pan, stir-fry mixed vegetables with remaining olive oil. Cook for ten minutes. 
  5. Slit the top of the potato and fill with grated cheese. Microwave for another minute. Top with vegetables and microwave for additional minute. Immediately add butter.
  6. Top with Greek yogurt/sour cream and pepper. 

Recipe: Spicy Tempeh and Vegetable Stir Fry

Tempeh doesn’t have to be tasteless!


Ingredients:

  1. 8 ounces tempeh
  2. 2 cups mixed vegetables, chopped
  3. 2 tablespoons olive oil, extra virgin preferable
  4. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  5. 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  6. 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  7. 2 teaspoons curry powder
  8. 3/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  9. Drizzle of sriracha hot sauce

Preparation:

  1. Fill a small pot with water. Bring water to a boil.
  2. Chop tempeh block into 4-6 pieces before putting it the in boiling water. Reduce the heat to low and let tempeh simmer for five minutes. (I know this is annoying, but do not skip this step. The tempeh will better absorb flavor and hold spices if steamed!)
  3. Oil a large pan.  Add garlic cloves. Leave them to set for a minute.
  4. After five minutes, remove tempeh from water with a spoon and transfer it to a plate. Dispose of excess water, and wet tempeh with lemon juice before patting it on both sides with curry powder and nutmeg.
  5. Transfer the tempeh to the spiced pan. Cook on one side for five minutes before flipping and cooking for ten minutes on the other side. Immediately after flipping the tempeh, add vegetables and sprinkle with chile flakes.
  6. Remove tempeh and vegetables from pan. Once the meal has been plated, drizzle mixture with the desired amount of sriracha sauce.