Don’t Go Breaking Your Heart: Five Tips to Follow to Avoid Heart disease

By Cher Thomas

In June 1976, when I was barely a teenager, a song, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” was released by Elton John and Kiki Dee. I loved this song. It stayed at number one for four weeks. This was when vinyl albums and 45 singles were the primary method of listening to music. Eight track tape players were well established, and cassette players were newer to the scene, which finally gave us a chance to record music.

Cassettes were a teenager’s dream! You could wait perched by your radio for hours, just to get a chance to record your favorite song. You could call the radio station and make a “dedication” to someone special, and they would play your song, along with everyone else’s too. For you younger readers, this is the very beginning of what became known as a “mix tape.” You would give it to your boyfriend or girlfriend to show them how much you care.

The song “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” has an upbeat melody. It’s about a couple that pledges to protect one other and not break each other’s heart. It was like candy to a young teenage girl in bell-bottoms and a shag haircut. I made my tape and listened to that song repeatedly. Even today, that song brings me back to my youth.

“Don’t go breaking my heart

I couldn’t if I tried

Honey, if I get restless

Baby, you’re not that kind”

In 1976, my biggest concerns were my grades, whether or not some boy liked me, and being accepted by friends at school. I didn’t know there was a ticking time bomb inside me. An autoimmune disorder was on a countdown to attack my body – specifically my kidneys. I’d heard of Lupus, but I had something like Lupus that impacted my immune system that few doctors were familiar with at the time. When I was diagnosed at age 32, I was in Stage Four kidney disease. My journey, like many others with autoimmune disorders, started with chemotherapy. When my autoimmune disease was in remission, I started dialysis. My disorder specifically targets blood vessels and veins, making it a challenge to keep my blood pressure within the normal range, even to this day. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know about all the many functions of the kidneys, especially how they affect blood pressure and heart disease.

As an adult, chronic kidney disease  (CKD) has shown me the multiple functions of the kidney, including how they cleanse the blood, transform waste into urine, balance body fluids, remove drugs from the body, and release hormones that regulate blood pressure, along with an extensive list of other functions. When I was diagnosed, I was experiencing aches all over my body. These seemed to have no rhyme or reason. I never noticed any change in my urine until one morning a lot of blood showed up. I was taking ibuprofen like candy to combat my pain. I felt horrible all the time and my blood pressure slowly crept upwards.

I went to the doctor for an annual checkup and received a call within days explaining my elevated creatinine and how I would be referred to several doctors. I didn’t even hear the words kidney disease. It was a lot of information all at once!

I was told that when one organ isn’t functioning to its full potential, it can put stress on other organs and cause them not to work as well either. The kidneys and heart are dependent upon each other. CKD, can increase your risk for heart disease.

Risk factors that kidney disease and heart disease have in common are:

  • Heart disease can impact anyone at any age. I was 32.
  • High Blood Pressure. It doesn’t always happen overnight. My blood pressure slowly creeped up.
  • I don’t have diabetes; however, my father did, and I saw how it affected his blood pressure.
  • Coronary Artery Disease. Keeping my phosphorus levels within the target range was a serious challenge during my year of dialysis. My high level of phosphorus while I was on dialysis made me at higher risk for calcium deposits in my blood.

During the year that I was on dialysis, it took a lot of effort to keep my salt intake to a minimum. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that the more salt I ate, the more swelling I had. And, the more swelling I had, the higher my blood pressure went. And the higher my blood pressure went, the more symptoms like “lightheadedness” I felt. I started reading the labels on EVERYTHING I bought! I even started using butter that had no salt in it! A nurse once told me, “Where salt goes – fluid follows.” Those were wise words that I still live by today because I still have to be vigilant about maintaining healthy blood pressure even after a kidney transplant.

Luckily, protecting your kidneys, and your heart – like Elton John and Kiki Dee said, can also help lower your risk of complications from CKD and heart disease.

According to the CDC, the following can help you manage both kidney and heart disease at once:

    1. Get active! Start by asking your doctor what is appropriate for you. Plan to safely increase your amount of activity. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Building stamina takes time.
    2. Choose healthy foods and drinks and follow your dietitian’s suggestions for a heart-healthy diet. Remember, “where salt goes – fluid follows” and fluid can not only raise your blood pressure, but make you feel bad too.
    3. Quit smoking. It can cause unneeded stress on your arteries.
    4. If you have diabetes, work with your doctor and dietitian to keep your A1C level within normal range.
    5. Get your annual flu shot. Everyone with a chronic illness is at risk for complications from the flu.

“Nobody told us

‘Cause nobody showed us

And now it’s up to us, babe”

For myself, keeping active has helped a lot. I’m not as active as I was in my youth, but low-impact exercises help a lot! Avoiding salt where I can is essential. I read the label on everything! I check my blood pressure daily. I also use a pulse oximeter which is a device that measures your heart rate and shows how much oxygen is in your blood. Most importantly, we are all different! Always talk with your doctor to see what is recommended for you!

What are the signs of a “broken heart”?

If you feel like your heart is breaking, know the common signs of a heart attack/cardiovascular event: Discomfort or pressure in the chest region, arm, back, or neck (usually on the left side). Excessive sweating, shortness of breath (with or without exertion), nausea, vomiting, or dizziness/lightheadedness. You also may notice a heart rate over 100 bpm (beats per minute) or exhaustion that doesn’t improve with rest.

A lot of things have changed over the years but showing each other (and our kidneys and hearts) some love is still popular. In the song, the duet tells us “Nobody told us, ‘cause nobody showed us. And now it’s up to us, babe ….” Let’s show our kidneys and hearts some love and avoid a cardiovascular event.

Today, I can listen to that song just by streaming it, and it takes me back in time. Instead of mix tapes, we now have customized play lists. But today I’d like to show both my kidney transplant and my heart some love, and so I’ll dedicate this song to my kidney, Kenney, and my heart that keeps on doing its job!

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Cher Thomas, RDHis a registered dental hygienist and a renal transplant recipient. After her kidneys failed due to ANCA positive vasculitis, in 1999 her brother became her kidney donor. Cher utilizes her experience with peritoneal dialysis and organ transplantation to explore the relationship between oral and renal health. She lives in Galveston, Texas.



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