Affairs of the Heart
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.
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.
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.
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
• 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?