Heart disease touches all types of people with unforgiving and deadly fingers. Nothing saves you from its touch – not money, fame or power. This is even more apparent after the untimely heart attack suffered by Gang Starr’s Guru on March 1, 2010. Although it has recently been reported that he has come out of his coma, survived surgery, and issued a short statement, the fact that a young man of 43 has suffered a heart attack should be a wakeup call for everyone. You can now mention Mr. Magic, Bill Clinton, Guru, and d**k Cheney all in the same conversation as they have all been affected by heart disease. As the face of Hip-Hop matures, the risk for health related problems increases in our living legends.
Keith Elam, also known as Guru and one half of the rap group Gang Starr, seemed invincible on the microphone to my generation of hip-hip heads. Gang Starr came on the scene in the late 1980’s adding flavor to the rap game. Guru took hip-hop bebop with his first solo album Jazzmatazz Volume 1 which fused hip-hop and jazz. This album brought together jazz aficionados such as Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis, and Ronny Jordan. Although sales were not as thriving as predicted, it was a solid endeavor and succeeded at fusing the two genres’.
So what is this apparition we call heart disease that could put d**k Cheney in the same sentence as hip-hop? Fred Sanford used to call it the “big one” but it is actually a number of abnormal conditions that affects the heart. The most common type of heart disease and the number one cause of heart attacks is coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD). Individuals with CAD have hardened and narrow arteries, the pipes that supply blood to the muscles of the heart. In order for the heart to beat efficiently, it must receive nutrients and oxygen via blood. The average adult heart beats approximately 100,000 times a day. If the blood vessels are blocked or narrowed, the heart works harder, increasing strain on the heart which leads to a heart attack. Both a massive heart attack or heart failure can severely debilitate and/or kill a person; however, the key is to know what causes these disorders and how to prevent them.
We cannot change some risk factors for heart disease - age, gender, race, family history, and previous history of heart attack or other forms of heart disease. As we get older, the risk of heart disease increases. This is not to say that younger people don’t have heart attacks, but the chance does increase with increasing age. Although men have a greater risk of heart attack than women and they have heart attacks earlier in life, CAD has become the leading cause of death in American women.
The best way to protect your self is through knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. It is very important to know your family history. If your first-degree relatives (mother, father, sister, or brother) have heart disease, this increases your chances of having the same problem. The discussion at the dinner table and family reunion when we are healthy and happy should include “the talk” about the state of the family’s health. Don’t be afraid to ask about your inheritance – what illnesses are in the family?
Although it has not been disclosed as to what contributed to Guru’s cardiac episode, his loved ones will want to include this experience in the picture that they present about their own health. And because he now has known CAD, he will want to make sure that he continues a close relationship with his doctor, eat properly, exercise, and take all prescribed medications. Unfortunately most individuals are on seven to nine medicines after a heart attack. Alternatives to these treatments are available, but only in consultation with a doctor who understands supplements and Integrative Medicine. That’s why it is so important to create a good relationship with a doctor that you trust. If it is not financially possible for you to go to the doctor because of a lack of insurance, look for public health services in your area, health fairs, or free clinics like the one sponsored by the National Association of Free Clinics that occurred in New Orleans in November 2009 and that continue to occur across the nation.
Contributing factors that increase your risk for coronary artery disease include cigarette smoking, the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Obesity is running a close second, and both are major contributors to the health care cost in our country. Cigarette smokers are two-to-three times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than nonsmokers. There is nothing wonderful about smoking and everything damaging about trying to “look cool” or imitate what we see others doing. Make the effort now to stop smoking or encourage those around you to stop before it is too late.
Furthermore, it is important to get moving. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day five to seven days a week. You can start with walking and then bring it up a notch by dancing through five or six songs – hip-hop has a great beat that will get you off your couch. Try some of the old school legends – you will enjoy their lyrics and the music is sure to have more than you head moving. You can also consult with a certified personal trainer. Whatever you do, just move and keep moving every day.
You’re not in this struggle by yourself. There is a wealth of information available to you to increase your chances of preventing coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association is a major contributor in the effort to raise our awareness about this disease and provides tools to protect us. Log on to www.americanheart.org to learn more about heart disease. Don’t let heart disease take you or any more of our living legends away from us.
Dr. Rani Whitfield is a board certified Family Practice Physician with a Certificate of Added Qualification in Sports Medicine. He is known as the Hip Hop Doc and combines music and medicine in the form of comic books and CD’s to educate young people on health issues. If you would like more information on the Hip Hop Doc go to www.h2doc.com. For a short list of hip-hop artist and affiliates affected by health issues www.h2doc.com/main/timeline/.