Weight fluctuations, such as those caused by obesity and anorexia, have a major impact on the health of the heart and indicate an increased risk of heart disease.
A good weight control does not mean maintaining a slim silhouette, but a healthy weight, indispensable for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system.
The percentage of obesity has increased dramatically worldwide. The population neglect the necessity of following a healthy diet and avoiding sedentary lifestyle, being susceptible to hypertension, diabetes or atherosclerosis, important risk factors of heart disease.
Coronary heart disease, favoured by obesity, is the leading cause of death worldwide, both for men and women. When plaque builds up on the walls of the coronary arteries, blood flow can not circulate optimally, and this blockage can trigger a heart attack. Heart failure is when the heart can no longer pump the blood supply needed by the body to perform the vital functions.
Apart from hypertension and diabetes, obesity is a risk factor for sleep apnea (breathing pauses repeated frequently during sleep) and atrial fibrillation (the most common heart rhythm disorder). For patients with this diagnosis is essential to maintain their body weight under control through proper diet and regular exercise.
Romania is the third in Europe in terms of deaths from cardiovascular disease, which represents approximately 60% of the deaths recorded in a single year. People who are obese are more prone to a heart attack before 45. Similarly, overweight teens are more prone to a heart attack before 35, compared to those of normal weight.
Anorexia and its effects on the heart
Anorexia is a serious eating disorder, and with bulimia they have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. Patients with anorexia deprive their body of nutrients essential for its proper functioning.
One of the early effects of starvation are the changes in heart rate. The heart muscle becomes dysfunctional as the electrical impulses that control the heart beat are affected. Given that a normal heart rate at rest for an adult is 60-100 beats per minute, that of a patient with severe anorexia falls below 60 beats per minute. From a medical standpoint, this phenomenon is called bradycardia.
When the heart works more slowly, the blood circulating throughout the body slows down, setting up as low blood pressure. Symptoms caused by this phenomenon are fainting and dizziness, generalized weakness and lethargy.
Anorexia has a devastating impact on the heart, reducing its normal size and causing a dangerous decrease in blood pressure. In patients with anorexia the complications which arise are extremely serious, such as atrophy of the heart, hypotension, heart failure and cardiac arrest.
Once an anorexic person’s weight reaches a dangerously low level, the body uses not only the skeletal muscle to obtain the protein it needs, but begins to use also the cardiac muscles. This explains the symptom of atrophy of the heart in this specific eating disorder.
The deprivation affects, moreover, the entire musculature of the body because of electrolyte imbalance in the blood and in the muscle tissue. Both skeletal muscle and heart muscle contracts and relaxes in a process controlled by changes in the calcium, potassium and sodium. Malnutrition affects the muscular contractions, as happens in the case of bulimia.
Serious disorders of the electrolyte balance in the body can lead to arrhythmia, heart failure and sudden death. If weight gain occurs by following the right treatment for anorexia, the symptoms gradually improve.
Once an anorexic heart begins to show symptoms, careful medical monitoring becomes essential. When the heart rate drops below 50 beats per minute, exercise and caffeine are extremely dangerous because they put pressure on the heart. And how patients with anorexia tend to consume more fluids and diuretics and exercise obsessively, the risk of sudden death is even higher.
Treatment for anorexia should take strict account of the cardiac symptoms. For example, forced ingestion of large amounts of food (especially concentrated sources of glucose) additionally affects the electrolyte imbalance in the body. Therefore, the therapeutic approach involves gradual increase in the calorie intake, rest and eating healthy foods that provide mainly protein and complex carbohydrates.
Psychological counselling and psychiatric care are other important components of the treatment for anorexia.