The heart is a silent performer. Every day, our heart is consistently and continually beating and is pumping oxygen and vital nutrients throughout our bodies helping us function better and stay healthy. Generally, we do not notice our heart and its endless, musical rhythm. We watch TV, work at our computers silently or sleep peacefully all through the night without noticing the quiet, but the consistent beat of our hearts in the background. We feel it work only after a sprint, playing a sport or are startled when we can sense the beats, called palpitations.
But, when the heart is damaged, it may show symptoms which cannot be missed. The most important of this is a pain. Heart pain has a particular character and generally manifests when the heart is under stress. The characteristics of the pain include a smothering sensation or pain in the middle of the chest that is felt as heaviness. This comes with physical activity and is relieved when you are at rest, lasting for a few minutes. This is called Angina.
Types of Angina
The pain may radiate to the left arm, to the jaw above and till the navel below. Sometimes, patients complain of pain at only these other sites, which is called Atypical Angina. Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms. If the pain is persistent and unrelieved by rest and medicine, there is a strong likelihood of a catastrophic cardiac condition called Acute Coronary Syndrome. About 50% of such patients may fail to reach the hospital and patients who received treatment within an hour are at a greater advantage. This may require urgent angiography and angioplasty or clot buster medicine called Thrombolytic. Time should never be wasted in such circumstances, be it reaching the hospital or giving consent for the procedure.
It is not uncommon for people to have pain at rest (without physical exertion or emotional stress), which is called Unstable Angina. This is common among smokers. Since our generation doesn’t exert much physically, many experiences the cardiac pain at rest for the first time. For many, the first symptom may be a catastrophic one. Thus the room for mistake is very little. Many people, especially the elderly may not have pain but symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, tiredness, which are known as Angina equivalents.
If our heart rhythm is faster than 100 beats per minute or slower than 60 beats per minute, it could be abnormal. However, there are a few exceptions like hyper-active younger people or trained athletes who usually have resting heart beats slower than 60 per minute, and, yes, if you are exercising, or are scared/startled, your heart rate may increase to nearly 100 beats a minute.
Slow Heart Rate
If you have a resting heart rate below 60 beats per minute, you may experience an interruption in the standard electrical impulse of the heart. This is common in older individuals as a side effect of some medicines. Slower heart rate is also common in people having inherent problems with their heart’s “electrical system” that may make it slow causing fatigue or dizziness. If you experience a slowed heart rate, particularly if you suspect your medication could be the reason, consult your doctor immediately to change dosages or the medications. In some cases of slowed heart rate, a pacemaker will be needed to maintain healthy heart rhythm.
Fast Heart Rate
There can be many reasons for a fast heart rate. If you are experiencing resting heart rhythm more than 100 beats a minute, it could be due to overweight, recovery from a fever or an illness. This usually does not indicate a heart problem. You should address the ailment or become physically more active to improve your heart function.
If you are older and are experiencing irregular heart rate, it could be Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular or quivering heartbeat that can cause blood clots, heart failure, stroke, or other heart-related condition. This happens when the top of the heart beats irregularly or faster, not pumping enough blood and eventually, allowing clots to form that can detach itself to go to the brain or other parts of our body. Atrial Fibrillation symptoms include pounding or fluttering in the chest, fatigue, shortness of breath, anxiety, dizziness, chest pain (angina).
If you or your loved ones experience any of the above symptoms, you should rush to an emergency room or consult doctor online immediately.
Maintaining a Healthy Heart
So what’s the key to heart health? The answer is ‘Prevention’. Staying physically active, treating medical conditions and following your doctors’ instructions religiously is the key to a heart-healthy life. Proper weight management and treating thyroid problems and sleep apnea also help in preventing heart ailments. In addition, find out if there is a history of heart disease or high blood pressure in your family. Consult a doctor if you do, even if you are not experiencing any symptoms. Regular heart health check-ups may also help. A periodic comprehensive heart health package, usually provided by a healthcare facility, will also help in identifying risk factors.
The Bottom Line
It is important to keep a tab on the risk factors for heart disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking which are modifiable including age and family history which cannot be modified. In the presence of such risks, any of the symptoms suggestive of heart disease should prompt one to take medical attention. One should also be aware when such attention is an Emergency. There are tools like ECG, Echocardiography, especially when done under stress which may point to a diseased heart. When it comes to heart disease, time is of an essence and timely intervention is the most important factor for a favorable outcome.
As for the things to avoid, stop smoking, avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine intake. An unhealthy diet can also contribute to heart problems.
Knowing the signs and making lifestyle changes can surely help. Take action now! Enroll in our comprehensive HealthyHeart Program to keep your heart healthy.