Af­fairs of the Heart

The Star (St. Lucia) - - HEALTH -

Prob­lems of the heart come un­der the um­brella term car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, which is the num­ber one cause of death glob­ally. In 2016 17.9 mil­lion peo­ple died from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, 85% due to heart at­tack and stroke. Fol­low­ing is a brief over­view of some of the more com­mon heart con­di­tions, for in­for­ma­tion only and not meant to re­place the ad­vice of your doc­tor. If you have any con­cerns about your health, please seek med­i­cal ad­vice.

Coro­nary heart dis­ease

This the most com­mon type of heart dis­ease. Most of­ten it is caused by hard­en­ing or block­ages in the ar­ter­ies, re­sult­ing in less blood flow­ing to the heart. In­flam­ma­tion and choles­terol de­posits are two of the main cul­prits re­spon­si­ble for this and doc­tors now test for choles­terol lev­els in the blood. Raised choles­terol may be an in­di­ca­tor of fu­ture prob­lems with the heart. The nar­rowed ar­ter­ies re­duce the sup­ply of blood and oxy­gen in the heart. At first you may not no­tice symp­toms but af­ter a while it may lead to angina where pain is felt in the chest, some­times with tin­gling in the left arm; in ex­treme cases this lack of oxy­gen can lead to a heart at­tack.

Ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat

This is known as an ar­rhyth­mia and can hap­pen spon­ta­neously or de­velop be­cause of other prob­lems with the heart. The al­tered beat­ing pat­tern of the heart may not be felt and can some­times be present in a healthy heart. It may be that your heart is beat­ing slower than nor­mal, or it may feel like it is beat­ing fast or flut­ter­ing.

There are many types of ar­rhyth­mias and the symp­toms will de­pend on the area of the heart and the cause. They can be present due to heart dis­ease but even drink­ing cof­fee can af­fect the rhythm of the heart.

In sim­ple cases life­style changes or med­i­ca­tion can help con­trol symp­toms but where the prob­lem is due to the stim­u­la­tion of the elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity in the heart, a pace­maker may be the best so­lu­tion.

Car­diomy­opa­thy

This is the term used to de­scribe heart dis­ease (car­dio=heart; my­opa­thy=dis­ease of the mus­cle). It can re­sult in hard­en­ing and stiff­en­ing of the mus­cle it­self or the outer cov­er­ing of the mus­cle mak­ing it hard for the heart to ef­fi­ciently pump blood around the body. It is not al­ways pos­si­ble to find the cause but there are cer­tain con­di­tions that are known to cause heart dis­ease such as re­ac­tions to drugs or tox­ins like al­co­hol, even treat­ments like chemo­ther­apy, vi­ral in­fec­tions and con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects.

Con­gen­i­tal heart dis­ease de­fects

These start in the womb as the foe­tus is de­vel­op­ing. Two com­mon con­di­tions are a hole in the heart and pul­monary steno­sis, both of which can be cor­rected with surgery if dis­cov­ered early enough.

Heart valve dis­ease

This oc­curs when one of the four valves of the heart fails to ei­ther open or close, af­fect­ing the blood flow through the heart. Fail­ure of the valves can oc­cur due to in­fec­tions, con­gen­i­tal heart dis­ease, high blood pres­sure, or af­ter a heart at­tack. Symp­toms are not al­ways present from the out­set but may take years to de­velop. The most ob­vi­ous signs are fa­tigue, short­ness of breath, dizzi­ness and swelling of the an­kles and feet.

Heart fail­ure

When your heart reaches the stage where it is not able to pump blood around your body to meet the de­mands of your ev­ery­day tasks, then it can lead to heart fail­ure. Heart fail­ure can be caused by a num­ber of fac­tors such as coro­nary heart dis­ease, car­diomy­opa­thy and high blood pres­sure but it can also be caused by thy­roid dis­ease and other con­di­tions.

There are many other con­di­tions that can af­fect the heart, far too many to men­tion here, but if you have any con­cerns, it is im­por­tant that you con­sult your doc­tor or pri­mary health care provider.

The key mes­sage is to look af­ter your heart. Lead­ing a healthy life­style can re­duce your risk of de­vel­op­ing se­ri­ous life-threat­en­ing com­pli­ca­tions. Bal­ance ac­tiv­ity against rest. Ev­ery­where you turn, peo­ple are telling you ex­er­cise is good for your heart and tak­ing a 40-minute walk (or a 20-minute jog) can do won­ders to boost the fit­ness of your heart but what you do the rest of the day is also im­por­tant. In­ter­act­ing with friends and fam­ily and stay­ing ac­tive through­out the day is also good for your heart but don’t for­get to find time to rest and fo­cus. Med­i­ta­tion and yoga are good ac­tiv­i­ties that can help calm the mind and body as well as try­ing to fit in seven hours of qual­ity sleep. Chang­ing some of our life choices can also help.

If you smoke then it’s time to quit; not only will you save money but you will also be sav­ing your heart and lungs too. Smok­ing has a neg­a­tive ef­fect on blood pres­sure, af­fects how much oxy­gen our lungs can ex­change and in­creases the risk of de­vel­op­ing a blood clot.

Find­ing time for your loved one can also boost your health. Cud­dling re­leases oxy­tocin which can help re­lieve stress but even bet­ter is mak­ing love to your part­ner. A study found that peo­ple who made love a few times a week were less likely to de­velop prob­lems with their heart.

Adopt a healthy eat­ing plan; not only will that help to keep your weight down but it can help lower choles­terol and blood pres­sure and re­duce the risk of di­a­betes. All of which can in­crease the stress on your heart.

The sign that some­thing is wrong with your heart is not al­ways as ob­vi­ous as crush­ing chest pain, which we all as­so­ciate with a heart at­tack.

The early signs may be sub­tle, but pay­ing at­ten­tion to your body may end up sav­ing your life, so don’t ig­nore the sub­tle signs and symp­toms:

• Short­ness of breath

• Pal­pi­ta­tions or heart flut­ters

• Fa­tigue

• Pain or dis­com­fort in the chest (and some­times arm)

• Lack of en­ergy

• Swelling of an­kles or feet

• Rapid weight gain

• Un­ex­plained cough

• Low ex­er­cise tol­er­ance

But as well as the early signs of heart dis­ease it is im­por­tant to know and recog­nise signs of a heart at­tack. We all know that most peo­ple com­plain of crush­ing chest pain but there are some other signs:

• Ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat

• Nau­sea, in­di­ges­tion or heart­burn

• Pain that spreads from the chest to the left side of the body and arm

• Feel­ing dizzy or light­headed

• Pain in the jaw or throat

• Quick to fa­tigue

• Sweat­ing pro­fusely

So make changes now and live a long and healthy life.

Kim Jack­son is a UK-trained phys­io­ther­a­pist with over 20 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence. She spe­cialises in mus­cu­loskele­tal pain and dys­func­tion in­clud­ing back pain and sci­at­ica, stroke and other neuro con­di­tions plus sports phys­io­ther­apy, hav­ing worked with lo­cal, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional ath­letes and teams treat­ing in­juries and analysing biome­chan­ics to im­prove func­tion and per­for­mance. She is reg­is­tered with the Al­lied Health Coun­cil and is a mem­ber of PASL. She cur­rently works at Bay­side Ther­apy Ser­vices in Rod­ney Bay, O: 458 4409 or C: 284 5443; www.bayside­ther­a­py­ser­vices.com

How much do you know about keep­ing your most vi­tal or­gans healthy?

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