May The Force Be With Her
Millions of “Star Wars” fans all over the world were deeply saddened by the news of the sudden tragic death of actress Carrie Fisher, who played one of the strongest female roles in the history of American cinema as Princess Leia. She suffered a sudden cardiac arrest on an international flight back home and was pronounced dead only days later despite heroic measures following her cardiac event. Her famous mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, also passed away from a hemorrhagic stroke just one day later. These two female Hollywood icons were both victims of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in women worldwide.
Sometimes those we know and love may appear free of heart disease despite having an underlying condition that can lead to a significant lethal cardiac event. It is estimated that over 17 million people a year die of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular diseases all around the world. Many of these deaths are preventable with healthy lifestyle choices. Although there are multiple causes of heart problems, a healthy lifestyle can help decrease one’s risk of heart disease or stroke regardless of the cause. Making sure one is able to regularly exercise and maintain a healthy weight is a good first goal. Eating a low-fat diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits and balanced with vitamins and minerals can help keep the heart healthy and pumping strong. Avoidance of tobacco (either primary or second-hand smoke) or excessive amounts of caffeine, alcohol, or other illicit substances can decrease the risk of cardiac arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms. Stress management at home or at work needs to be controlled as well as possible, and avoidance of stressful situations can help lower one’s risk of cardiac events. In addition to lifestyle changes, risk factor modification is crucial in prevention of heart disease. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes should be treated aggressively iffound on evaluation. Regular physical exams and check-ups with your health care provider to look for other causes of cardiovascular disease, such as heart valve problems, thyroid disease, chronic kidney disease, and atherosclerosis of the cardiovascular system, can also be beneficial in prevention of heart problems down the road.
On average, a healthy human heart pumps approximately 2,000 gallons of blood a day! This means that a healthy lifestyle, risk factor modification, and early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease are all needed to maintain an overall robust cardiac status. Fans of “Star Wars” will remember the strength and courage of Princess Leia, who fought the evil Empire with grit and passion. She most certainly displayed a strong heart in every episode of Star Wars, and her character will be forever cherished by millions of fans all over the world. All of us can be strong like Princess Leia with a healthy heart. May the Force be with you.
Dr. Mike Bensler is the Chief of Cardiology and Electrophysiology at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson.