Obesity and Heart Disease: Connection

Obesity is one of the most prevalent conditions in the modernized, industrialized world. ownplayed. Generally speaking, obesity refers to anyone who carries more body fat on their frame than is considered healthy for a person of their particular height and bone structure. Officially, obesity refers to people who are 40 to 100 pounds over their recommended weight while those who are more than 100 pounds over their recommended weight are considered morbidly obese. Obesity dramatically lowers a person’s life expectancy through a variety of possible complications, not the least of which is coronary heart disease. The purpose of the present research is to examine the causes of obesity and coronary heart disease, how they are related to each other and what can be done to reduce the possibilities of developing these conditions.

There are a number of causes of obesity. People whose parents are overweight and who live in poverty or are otherwise restricted by a lower income have a greater likelihood of also being overweight. This is caused not only by heredity and genetics, but also by family culture as the individual learns poor eating habits and by the available food supply, which tends to be less nutritious and have greater fat content. Despite claims to the contrary, heredity can significantly influence obesity tendencies. People who are genetically predisposed to obesity actually do have greater difficulty trying to lose weight and then maintaining a more healthy body mass. Several studies have been conducted that illustrate that approximately 50 percent of those children who are overweight also have overweight parents. Heredity will also determine whether a person carries their extra weight on their stomach or on their hips and thighs. Finally, heredity has an effect on a person’s natural metabolism and hormonal balances. Metabolism is the process by which the body burns up energy. Hormonal balances factor in the process of controlling weight. “Recent studies show that levels of ghrelin, a peptide hormone known to regulate appetite, and other peptides in the stomach, play a role in triggering hunger and producing a feeling of fullness” (“Overview of Obesity”, 2007).

Obesity increases the levels of cholesterol being carried in the bloodstream, which is significant because this cholesterol has a tendency to clog the arteries of the heart. Increased body fat also places external strain on these blood vessels and they become constricted, making it more difficult for blood to flow through them and reducing the body’s ability to transport blood to vital organs, such as the heart. This causes those who are obese to suffer with breathing problems, experience sleepiness at all hours and struggle against general fatigue. Over long term, obesity can significantly increase the chances of an individual suffering a stroke or developing hypertension. “More than 75 percent of people with hypertension are obese” (“Health Effects”, 2002). Recent studies have shown a closer link between obesity and coronary heart disease. According to one study, obesity can independently predict coronary atherosclerosis (Eckel, 1997). This means that every obese person must be immediately concerned with heart health if they wish to avoid suffering a heart attack.

Coronary heart disease refers to a condition in which an individual’s coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. When this occurs, oxygen-rich blood is unable to effectively reach the heart muscle. Two possible physical reactions to this condition are angina and heart attack. Angina is the term used to refer to a condition in which some blood is reaching the heart but the flow is strongly restricted. “Angina may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The pain also may occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back” (Coronary Artery Disease, 2008). This is a slowly progressing condition that ultimately acts to restrict blood flow to the heart, thus the supply of oxygen to the brain and body. Heart diseases can be congenital (born with the disease) (“Heart Disease”, 2005), yet they are more often the result of lifestyle choices and physical condition. Heart disease causes the deaths of nearly one million people in the U.S. every year, accounting for more than 40 percent of total fatalities and is the primary cause of death worldwide among both women and men (“Heart Disease Overview”, 2007). This condition requires immediate attention and intervention strategies in order to prevent heart attack or other permanent damage.

However, since heart disease is a slowly progressive illness, the onset may not be noticeable until a heart attack occurs. Heart attacks occur when blood flow to the heart becomes completely blocked. In this situation, oxygen-rich blood cannot make it all the way into the heart and the muscle, deprived of oxygen, begins to die. When this happens, an acute pressure of the chest is accompanied by a severe shortness of breath and pain in other areas of the upper body which could involve both or either arm, back, head, neck or stomach. Other symptoms could include feelings of light-headedness, becoming nauseous and/or sweating profusely for no other apparent reason (“Heart Disease FAQs”, 2007). Unless the individual is treated quickly, the heart stops and death follows.

Long term heart disease can also weaken the heart muscle to the point where it is no longer capable of performing its job even when blood is able to reach the heart. One condition that develops in this case is termed heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the muscle becomes so weak that it is no longer able to effectively pump blood through the body. This condition can also be exacerbated by the heart attempting to push blood through a system in which the main conduits are compressed and restricted by external pressures, such as when arteries and veins are squeezed under multiple layers of body fat. Another condition that can occur in the event that the heart muscle itself is damaged by coronary artery disease is arrhythmia. “Arrhythmias are problems with the speed or rhythm of your heartbeat” (Coronary Artery Disease, 2008). In this case, the body is not given new blood according to a predictable rhythm which can cause a great deal of trouble and again, possible death.

The common factor in all of these conditions is the presence of plaque build-up within the coronary artery. “Plaque is made up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances found in the blood. When plaque builds up in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis” (Coronary Artery Disease, 2008). Not only can these build-ups of plaque create blockage as they slowly narrow the internal circumference of the artery, but they can begin to come together and form blood clots. Blood clots can eventually become great enough to completely clog an artery suddenly and without the assistance of other blockage. They can also travel to other portions of the body and cause other unhealthy conditions should they become lodged in areas such as the brain.

Just as in the case of obesity, there are a number of contributing causes for heart disease and many of them can be prevented or effectively controlled. Some of these cannot be controlled. These include age, family history and other health conditions. Not all older people will experience heart disease, but there is an increased risk of heart disease as a person grows older. “Genetic or lifestyle factors cause plaque to build in your arteries as you age. By the time you’re middle-aged or older, enough plaque has built up to cause signs or symptoms” (Coronary Artery Disease, 2008). Women generally experience greater tendencies for heart disease after age 55 while men usually experience it at a younger age, usually around 45. A history of heart disease in the family is also a significant and uncontrollable risk factor. According to the National Heart and Lung Disease Institute (Coronary Artery Disease, 2008), men who have male relatives that experienced heart disease before the age of 55 and women who have female relatives diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 65 are at greater risk of developing heart disease themselves. Finally, other health conditions, such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure, obesity or even tooth decay, can lead to greater risk of heart disease as the heart exists under a continuously stressed condition. Some of these may be controllable while others may not.

Most risk factors for heart disease are controllable. There are at least nine controllable factors that are the basis for almost all instances of heart disease. The moderate use of alcohol (one drink per day) actually reduces the risk for heart disease, by 12 percent for men and an amazing 60 percent for women. However, drinking too much promotes heart disease by placing undue stress on the heart in attempting to clear the bloodstream. The inability to successfully manage the stresses of everyday life which includes bouts with depression and behavioral disorders triples the risk for heart disease. Those that smoke contract heart disease at three times the rate of those who do not. “Cigarette smoke damages the artery wall, paving the way for inflammation and cholesterol build-up. It narrows arteries. It also activates platelets, sticky cells that cling together and promote clotting” (Sternberg, 2006). Diet and exercise issues also have a great deal of impact on heart disease. A person’s diet can decrease their risk of heart disease. Foods that have a low fat content, grains, vegetables, fruits and other highly nutritious fare play a large role in lowering cholesterol, preventing obesity and contribute to a significantly lower risk for heart disease while foods high in fat content and low in nutritional content contribute to the development of obesity. Obesity, particularly of the abdomen, more than doubles the risk for heart disease. A large ‘tummy’ causes hormonal issues which produces high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which puts the individual at greater risk. Having diabetes or abnormally high cholesterol quadruples the risk for heart disease. High blood pressure triples the risk. Exercise and proper diet lowers cholesterol, improves blood sugar content and allows blood vessels to expand reducing high blood pressure (Sternberg, 2006). These seven factors cause plaque to form restricting arteries. Clots form and when they break away, they clog the remaining passageway in the artery which causes a heart attack.

As the causes of obesity and heart disease are examined, it can be discerned that the problems of obesity paint a straight line to the problems of heart disease, making it almost inevitable that people who are obese will have heart problems. Since obesity affects an increasing number of Americans every year, this is a significant health issue that must be addressed as health care centers become overwhelmed attempting to cope with the problems associated not just with obesity, but also with the very real and very life-threatening problems of heart disease. As the American culture is exported to other parts of the world, obesity is becoming a problem in these areas as well. If a person is not born with heart disease or a predisposition for obesity, both of these conditions can be regulated by adjusting lifestyle choices. Avoiding the smoking habit and taking part in a reasonable exercise regiment decreases the risk of contracting heart disease by about 25 percent. If these habits are combined with eating healthy foods and maintaining a desirable weight the odds of contracting heart disease are decreased even further. “Consistently eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products can help protect your heart. Low-fat sources of protein and certain types of fish also can reduce your risk of heart disease” (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2007). As people grow older, they find it harder to maintain their desired weight. It is important for the older person to schedule regular exercise and to consciously maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid heart disease.

There are a number of medical treatments available today that can assist people with overcoming overweight, obesity and heart disease. For the overweight person, there are medications that help regulate hormonal imbalances and surgical procedures that help reduce weight or suppress appetite and make true exercise possible. However, these procedures also require a change in lifestyle habits that includes healthy eating and regular exercise. Many medications and treatments are available that will enhance the flow of blood within the arteries after artery disease has started. Two procedures to treat heart disease that do not require open-heart surgery are angioplasty and using a pacemaker. Angioplasty expands the artery by dilating it with a balloon which is attached to a catheter inserted into the artery. Pacemakers, or electrophysiological devices, replace the heart’s rhythmic electrical pulses and maintains a proper heart rate. Open-heart surgery generally alludes to the replacement of an artery with a large blood vessel of that same patient. Following these treatments as well, the patient is required to make some significant lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet and regular appropriate exercise if they truly wish to prolong their life.

Works Cited

“Coronary Artery Disease.” Diseases and Conditions Index. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (2008).

Drenick, E.J., et al. “Excessive Mortality and Causes of Death in Morbidly Obese Men.” Journal of the American Medical Association. Vol. 243, pp. 443-445. (1980).

Eckel, Robert H. “A Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the Nutrition Committee, American Heart Association.” Circulation. Vol. 96, pp. 3248-3250. (1997).

“Heart Disease.” Medical Encyclopedia. American Medical Network. (2005).

“Heart Disease FAQs.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007). Web.

“Heart Disease Overview.” Health InfoChannel. Health Communities. (2007).

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Heart disease prevention: 5 strategies keep your heart healthy.” Heart Disease. Mayo Clinic. (2007).

“Overview of Obesity.” Cardiovascular Diseases. University of Virginia Health System. (2007). Web.

Sternberg, Steve. “Nine factors that affect your heart’s health.” USA Today. (2006).

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