A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)
Many of the problems that eat away at the heart of my patients are centered around feeling crushed and hopeless under all of life’s hardships. No pill can fix that.
If this describes you then I encourage you to consider meeting with our Biblical Counselors, Tom Webb and Dave Smith, to learn how to once again have a joyful heart.
“Well Jim, the good news is your coronary calcium scan shows no calcified plaque on the arteries that supply your heart. The not so great news is that the biggest artery coming out of your heart, the aorta, shows the beginnings of an aneurysm.”
“Hmmm, why don’t I have any chest pain or other symptoms?”
So, what is an aortic aneurysm? For starters, any aneurysm is an excessive localized enlargement of an artery caused by a weakening of the artery wall. Typically it is officially called an aneurysm when it reaches 50% or greater increase from its normal size.
The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It arises out of the biggest pumping chamber of the heart, the left ventricle, and then branches out to supply the body with oxygenated blood.
Typically if the aorta dilates (expands) it causes no symptoms at first. But if it enlarges enough, or eventually tears or begins to rupture, there can be substantial, sometimes excruciating chest, abdominal, upper or lower back or even groin pain. A person with a sudden leaking aneurysm may even lose consciousness or be in shock. Over 65% of ruptured aortic aneurysms die before reaching the hospital.
Aortic aneurysms most commonly affect elderly white men, especially smokers. For this reason, it is recommended that males who have been smokers get a single abdominal ultrasound looking for an aortic aneurysm sometime between age 65 and 75. Other risk factors include increasing height and weight, hypertension, heart disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and positive family history of aneurysms.
So how common are aortic aneurysms? Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is the 13th leading cause of death in the U.S. with about 15,000 cases per year. Autopsy studies show aortic aneurysm present in between 1-4 % of those over 65 years old, so it’s not rare.
The primary treatment is surgical repair. Obviously if an aortic aneurysm is tearing, emergency repair is essential and potentially life-saving. If an aortic aneurysm is seen on an ultrasound or other imaging study, it is usually repaired if it reaches a certain threshold in size. For example, an aneurysm of the abdominal aorta is usually repaired if it reaches 5 cm. in size, since this has been found to be a size that predicts substantial risk of rupture.
What about prevention? If you’ve got healthy arteries, or even if you have the beginnings of an aneurysm, what can you do to prevent future problems? Don’t smoke, do treat high blood pressure, and avoid getting overweight. There are also studies besides abdominal ultrasounds such as coronary calcium scores and a specialized study of the carotid artery in the neck (a carotid artery intimal medial thickness test) that can be done to assess the health of your arteries. This will help you and your doctor determine whether you need to more aggressively treat your cholesterol and/or arterial inflammation.
You’ve only got one aorta; take care of it, and if you have risk factors, keep a close eye on it.
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:5-8 NIV)
James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic who came up with the idea of the treadmill desk, told me that my experience was pretty typical. “There’s a tendency to want to jump on the treadmill and walk for hours and hours a day,” he says. “Don’t do that. Certainly, at the absolute maximum, do half-hour on, half an hour off, for two to three hours a day.”
That’s a relief. That’s about what I’m doing. Levine says that since the 1960s, work spaces have been designed to minimize movement. It’s a culturally ingrained mindset, he says, which dominates much of our lives today.
“You could literally spend your entire adult life from graduation to coffin entry without leaving your apartment, without getting up,” he says.
Research suggests that walking at a slow pace of <1.4 miles per hour can help boost concentration and focus while at work. Difficult tasks may still benefit from sitting, however, if your workplace is conducive-give it a try. Treadmill desks start at around $800-1200 but Kerry, our lab tech was able to find a generic walking treadmill online for around $175 and then purchased a drafting table for around $125.
Photo: Lyndsie (scribe and personal trainer at our Maryville office trying Kerry’s new office treadmill desk).