Coronary heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability in Bangladesh. In fact, statistics show the number of people suffering from the disease has increased to 3,500% in just two decades, as opposed to the predicted rate of 100% increase by 2020. This dangerously rising rate is linked to many factors, including rapid urbanisation, population density, the environment, nutritional problems and genetic problems. Current research (BRAVE study) is assessing the role of long-term exposure to arsenic and other toxic metals through food and water, tobacco consumption, including chewing tobacco as paan/ betel leaf and jarda, sub-optimal nutrition and genetic variation.
The rapidly increasing rate of cardiovascular disease is a wake-up call to Bangladeshis around the world. It’s never too early to educate yourself on the potential risk factors you may have for heart disease. While some risk factors are unalterable, there is plenty you can do to make sure your heart stays healthy. First of all, know your numbers. Every adult Bangladeshi should know his or her blood pressure, waist measurement, weight, cholesterol and fasting blood sugar. These five numbers can offer clues and alerts to the state of your health.
Blood pressure: Your blood pressure can indicate if you are at risk for cardiovascular disease, a stroke or kidney disease. Measure your blood pressure once a month by taking a reading three times and averaging the numbers. A systolic reading above 140 is considered too high and warrants seeing your doctor.
Waist size: Measure your waist at the belly button once a month. The number should be less than half of your height. If it is more, it puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease among a host of other health concerns.
Weight: Weigh yourself once a month and make a commitment to keep checking that number for losses and gains. The average Bangladeshi woman stands approximately 1.5m tall and should weigh less than 68kg, the cut off point for obesity. The average Bangladeshi man is about 1.7m tall and should weigh less than 88kg, his cut off for obesity. Taller folks can add about 1kg per 1cm, and shorter folks can subtract 1kg per 1cm.
Cholesterol: High cholesterol is big risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Test your cholesterol levels regularly. Your HDL, the healthy cholesterol, needs to be 50 or better; your LDL, the unhealthy cholesterol, should be under 100.
Blood sugar: Your fasting blood sugar (FBS) measures your risk for diabetes, which can lead to many health problems, including heart disease. Your FBS can be determined with a simple blood test or a finger stick test. An FBS number above 100 is considered prediabetic, and you should consult with a physician.
Know the symptoms of a heart attack and your family history. Women may have more subtle symptoms than men, so be sure to educate yourself on what they are so you can know what to do in an emergency.