Breakthrough – help for heart attack patients.
Thousands of heart attack victims in Victoria could benefit from a world-first study using carbon dioxide to improve survival rates and reduce brain damage. Intensive care specialists at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne (Nov 2013) announced that they plan giving patients recovering from a cardiac arrest higher levels of carbon dioxide in a bid to boost their long-term recovery.
What – give them more carbon dioxide?
Yes, contrary to what many people think, we require (the right level of) carbon dioxide in the bloodstream for our bodies to function properly. It is a dangerous myth that we should breathe deeply to remove as much carbon dioxide as possible from our lungs and blood. (Carbon dioxide – CO2 – is produced in the body as a bi-product of metabolism.)
What is the connection with aiding recovery from heart attacks?
One of carbon dioxide’s important roles is assisting blood flow and oxygen transport by relaxing blood vessels. Another is facilitating the uptake of oxygen by your cells. The more CO2 in your blood, the more cells get oxygenated. When blood levels of CO2 are too low, blood vessels may spasm, circulation is reduced and oxygen clings to red blood cells – resulting in less oxygen getting to your cells, starving them of oxygen.
It’s not hard to see how important CO2 is then in maintaining oxygenation of the heart (and brain) and how important it may be in recovery from heart attacks.
Austin Hospital ICU research manager Dr Eastwood also talks about other important roles. “Slighter higher CO2 levels actually have an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-convulsive properties and these are important for protecting the brain after a heart attack,” he said.
And how about prevention of cardiovascular conditions?
Over-breathing lowers your carbon dioxide levels increasing your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke (as well as asthma, sleep apnoea and anxiety). It is interesting to note that heavy snorers are at increased risk of hypertension and heart attacks, and that heart attacks may be associated with a prolonged or sudden stressful event and with strenuous physical activity – all of which are accompanied by increased breathing.
The bottom line? Your breathing matters.
Learning to breathe properly is important for general and cardiovascular health.
See also: Carbon dioxide is not just a waste gas
by Tess Graham