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First Michael Jackson and Now Billy Mays- Is There Something In Common?

Posted Oct 14 2009 10:04pm


First Michael Jackson and now Billy Mays, both died at a young age of 50 and both of them likely due to heart disease. Is this just coincidence or is there something common. Should we worry about the number 50?


Does the word “Stress and hypertension” ring the bell when you think of celebrities?


Billy Mays was in an airline accident a day before. Someone said ,”He survived the accident but probably this stressed the hell out of his heart which just never caught up…”. This is not just one time stress though; this is not because of a single event that one gets a heart attack. Heart disease develops overtime and several factors could contribute to this problem. “Mays suffered from hypertensive heart disease, and the wall of the left ventricle of May’s heart and the wall of one of his arteries were enlarged” said Vernard Adams, Hillsborough County Medical Examiner. So, is this hypertension that killed Billy Mays? Well, it is likely that he died of heart attack in his sleep, but it might take few more weeks to perform several tests to determine the exact cause of his death.


Although, a direct relationship between stress and hypertension is still unclear but stress can indirectly cause hypertension through repeated blood pressure increases and also by affecting the nervous system to produce hormones that raise blood pressure. Could an airline accident have caused sudden elevations in Mays’ blood pressure damaging his heart?

Hypertension is one of the most significant contributor to heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately one third of those who suffer from hypertension are unaware of their condition as it is asymptomatic. As a result, almost two thirds of those remain untreated or undertreated.
High blood pressure does not cause any symptoms, at least in its early stages and so it becomes very important to monitor your blood pressure regularly, once every year, if you think you are normal and have no risk conditions or disease. High blood pressure causes weakening of the arteries, which makes them more susceptible to damage and plaque build-up around their walls. This results in a condition called atherosclerosis.


What is considered to be normal blood pressure? Less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. What is Pre-hypertension? When the blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90, it is known as moderately high and the individual is pre-hypertensive. Finally, what is hypertensive? Blood pressure of 140/90 or higher (130/80 for diabetics) is called hypertension. So, the goals of therapy should be to lower the blood pressure to less than 140/90 for those without diabetes and to less than 130/90 for those with diabetes.


Regular blood pressure checks is the first step to lowering the blood pressure in order to avoid heart problems. Antihypertensive medications are helpful but even among those using such medicines, only about 53% have their blood pressure under control. American Diabetes Association has recommended that just a 12- to 13-point reduction in blood pressure by positive lifestyle changes can reduce risk of myocardial infarction by 21%, stroke by 37% and all death from cardiovascular disease by 25%.


Positive lifestyle modifications remain the cornerstone of controlling and managing blood pressure/ hypertension, which include 1) weight loss, 2) regular aerobic activity with at least one 40-minute moderate intensity exercise every week, 3) diet rich in fruits, vegetables, potassium and calcium, 4) reduced salt intake, and 5) moderate alcohol consumption. These changes are extremely helpful in controlling the blood pressure and also blood glucose and lipid levels, thereby helping in prevention of cardiovascular disease.


Hypertension is not just a problem of adults, but children should also be monitored for high blood pressure. Children also develop hypertension due to same reasons as adults- unhealthy diet, not being active and accumulating some extra pounds. When diagnosed with high blood pressure, children should be treated with making healthy lifestyle changes aimed at weight control and increased physical activity. In some cases, pharmacologic intervention may be required.
Although age does increase your risk of getting a heart disease and you cannot do much about this, but you can definitely control other risk factors that multiply the overall risk.


Of course, heart disease has nothing to do with the number 50 and all those in their 50’s or turning 50 should not be alarmed. Celebrate your 50th year and celebrate the lives and legacies of Michael Jackson and Billy Mays, and remember it is never too late to make healthy and positive lifestyle changes.
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