Looking After Your Ticker: Let's Talk Cardiovascular Disease

By James East, January 19, 2022

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The new year has just begun, and some of us are working hard to stick to our New Year's resolutions. Some are already struggling to stay or get back on the horse, while the rest have just given up all together. 

Whatever stage you’re at, something that you might not have thought about when planning your resolutions is your ticker. It’s time we spoke about cardiovascular disease.


Dr. Meng Wei is Chief of Cardiology and Chief of Internal Medicine at Jiahui International Hospital. He has been studying medicine for over 40 years and specializes in coronary heart disease.

During Dr. Meng Wei’s career, he has studied in both the United States and Germany, and in 2017 he was awarded the outstanding contribution award for cardiovascular diseases by the Chinese Medical Association. 

What are some simple changes our readers can make to stay away from cardiovascular disease and lead a healthy life?
It’s important to make some simple lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, eating more fruits, vegetables, foods with a lot of fiber and staying away from foods that have a lot of sugar. Also, if you’re overweight, you should look at trying to slim down.

Regardless of your weight, you should try and do some simple exercise everyday. What is really important, and what a lot of people don’t realize, is that depression increases your chance of getting cardiovascular disease. 

How can depression affect cardiovascular disease?
Psychosocial factors may contribute to the early development of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries) as well acute precipitation of myocardial infarction (MI, commonly known as a heart attack) and sudden cardiac death.

The link between psychologic stress and atherosclerosis may be direct, via damage of the endothelium. It may also be indirect, via aggravation of traditional risk factors such as smoking, hypertension and lipid metabolism.

Depression, anger, stress and other factors can all be related to cardiovascular disease.

Just how bad is alcohol and smoking when it comes to cardiovascular disease?
Cigarette smoking is an important and reversible risk factor for coronary heart disease. The incidence of a heart attack is increased sixfold in women and threefold in men who smoke at least 20 cigarettes per day, compared with subjects who never smoke. 

Conversely, the risk of recurrent obstruction of the blood supply, in a study of smokers who had a heart attack, fell by 50 percent within one year of stopping smoking and normalized to that of non-smokers within two years.

The benefits of giving up smoking are endless, and it doesn’t matter how long or how much the patient has previously smoked. 

As for alcohol, it can be enjoyed in moderation, but if you drink too much, then you should take measures to limit the amount you drink.

How else can I improve my diet?
The most important thing to know is that diets containing foods with a high glycemic index or glycemic load may contribute to the risk of coronary heart disease.

A high intake of red meat has been associated with high risks of cardiovascular disease. Consumption of trans fatty acids, or foods that contain them, relate to adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

What are some common risk factors of cardiovascular disease?
Smoking is a main risk factor that many people know of, but also hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a very common risk factor of cardiovascular disease. If there is a history of cardiovascular disease in your family, you may be at risk too.

If you have three of these risk factors, or any of the ones we mentioned before, you should have an annual health evaluation.

What are some early symptoms of cardiovascular disease, and what should I do if I have them?
Many people with coronary artery disease don’t show any symptoms, and that’s why an annual check is important. For those who do, the most common symptoms usually occur during exercise. They can include pain, pressure or discomfort in the center of the chest.

Symptoms like pain, tingling or discomfort can occur in other parts of the upper body like the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. Another sign can be shortness of breath. If you have any symptoms or any concerns, please arrange to see a cardiologist.

Tests to check for coronary artery disease are usually the same in women and men and are quite simple. We would do blood tests to check cholesterol levels and an ECG to measure the electrical activity in your heart.

On top of that, you may do a stress test, where the doctor evaluates heart blood supply during exercise. 

Another important test is a coronary CTA which can accurately display the condition of the coronary artery. 

Finally, a cardiac catheterization is the gold standard for the diagnosis of coronary artery disease. This is always performed before interventional treatment.

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