Look after your heart

07 February 2014

The heart pumps 6 litres of blood around the body per minute, increasing to 18 litres during exercise and pregnancy, to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all body tissue. Unfortunately, avoiding problems with this vital organ is not always possible as ageing, genetics and unidentifiable factors make everyone at risk of heart disease. However, you can look after your heart by avoiding smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and consuming too much sugar and fat. 

With February being 'National Heart Month' to raise awareness of the UK's biggest killer - cardiovascular disease, Dr Vinod Achan gives some advice on what symtoms to look out for. 

What is Angina?

Angina occurs when the arteries narrow beyond 60% restricting the blood flow to the heart. Occasionally, Angina has no warning signs whatsoever but usually produces symptoms such as jaw pain, upper back discomfort, a tight or heavy chest which may spread into the shoulders and/or neck  and shortness of breath during physical activity. Symptoms typically resolve with rest.

What should I do if I think I have Angina?

Angina is considered ‘stable’ when symptoms develop with activity but resolve with rest. Individuals experiencing these symptoms should seek urgent advice from a GP and then a cardiologist. A cardiologist will decide the best treatment following a treadmill test, a heart ultrasound and potentially an angiogram. When symptoms develop during rest, regarded as ‘unstable’, individuals should seek urgent treatment.

What is a heart attack?

Heart attacks are the most common cause of death in the developed world caused by a complete blockage of a coronary artery. The symptoms are similar to Angina but also include sweating, feeling faint, vomiting and sometimes collapsing. However, worryingly 25% of heart attacks do not produce any recognisable symptoms.

How are heart attacks treated?

Thirty years ago there was no specific heart attack treatment available; and only 80% of those who survived the initial attack would have left hospital after a two week rest. Now, patients are treated using an emergency coronary angioplasty, increasing survival rate to 96%, and requires only a two or three day stay in hospital and with a lower risk of subsequent heart failure. A catheter enters into the circulation through the wrist or groin, to reach the heart and take a detailed x-ray of the coronary arteries. The identified blocked artery is then reopened using a fine wire, balloon and a stent. Quick responses are essential as risk of death following a heart attack is 40% if untreated.

Dr Vinod Achan, Consultant Cardiologist, qualified from Oxford University and was a Fulbright Scholar at Stanford University, California. Dr Achan is based locally on the NHS at Frimley Park Hospital, the designated 24/7 regional Heart Attack Centre, performing over 1000 coronary angioplasties a year and delivering emergency cardiac care to a population of one million people, and he practices privately at Spire Clare Park Hospital, Farnham. 

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