06 February 2020
Visions of hearts are everywhere for a few weeks leading up to 14 February. But then we forget about them. It’s a cheesy link, but Valentine’s Day is a good opportunity to talk about our hearts, as heart disease remained the second leading cause of death in 2017*
There are lots of different conditions that affect the heart’s ability to work efficiently, which together form a collective known as heart disease. Shahnaz Fraser spent some time with Dr Cairistine Grahame-Clarke, Consultant Cardiologist to discuss the common heart conditions, how to recognise their symptoms and what can be done to prevent them.
Dr Grahame-Clarke, how would someone know they were suffering from a heart problem?
The common denominator with most heart problems is the symptoms, which can include:
- Chest tightness, or a pressure sometimes radiating to the neck or shoulders
- Shortness of breath especially on exertion
- feeling sweaty
What are the most common heart conditions that face people in the UK today?
The most common conditions range from relatively mild heart palpitations or routine increase in high blood pressure, to potentially fatal conditions like a heart attack. Let’s go through the more common conditions:
Palpitations – usually defined as ‘an abnormal awareness of the beating of the heart’, which means that the beating of your heart (whether too slow, too fast or irregular) interrupts your thoughts and makes you conscious of its beating. Don’t panic if you become aware of your heart beating when you concentrate on it, that’s quite normal.
We are more likely to be aware of our heart beating as a result of physical exertion, alcohol, caffeine, or anxiety. Most palpitations are benign; the important thing is to try and obtain an ECG (Ecocardiagram – a test to check your heart’s rhythm) when you’re having symptoms, usually through your GP.
Cholesterol – Cholesterol is a type of fat made by the body that is essential for good health. However, a high cholesterol level in the blood can increase the risk of vascular disease, such as heart attacks. One of the main illnesses associated with high cholesterol is coronary heart disease. Medication is available to help lower cholesterol – it’s best to talk to an expert to ascertain the risks and benefits.
High blood pressure – affects one in four adults in England.** If you have high blood pressure, you are more likely to be at risk of developing serious conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attacks and particularly strokes. Thankfully there are many different drugs available to treat it and prevent such events.
What are the more serious conditions?
There are several more serious conditions that will require urgent attention if the patient starts suffering from any of the symptoms described above. These are:
Coronary heart disease – when the heart’s blood vessels (the coronary arteries) become narrowed or blocked and can’t supply enough blood to the heart.
Angina – a pain or discomfort in your chest, arm, neck, stomach or jaw that happens when the blood supply to your heart becomes restricted because of your arteries becoming narrowed. This usually happens because you’re doing something strenuous, or are under stress.
Heart attack – a heart attack happens when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle becomes completely blocked. This can cause damage to the part of the heart muscle that the artery was supplying. Symptoms of a heart attack can include:
- Any chest pain – the chest can feel like it’s being pressed or squeezed by a heavy object, and the pain can radiate from the chest to the jaw, neck, arms and back
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sweaty
It is important to know that not everyone experiences chest pain. The pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion. Chest pain occurring on exertion and going away with rest, warrants investigation.
Who is at risk of developing a serious heart condition?
Heart conditions can affect people of any age, indeed some people are born with heart conditions. But the risk level is increased if you are over 65, are diabetic, a smoker, are overweight and/or have a family history of heart disease.
But, if you are suffering from high blood pressure or any of the more common conditions and they are managed correctly, you can reduce your risk of developing more serious heart disease. So it is important that your condition is regularly monitored by your GP. Your GP will enquire as to the frequency of the episodes, and the circumstances as before deciding on the appropriate course of investigation.
It’s important to be aware that if anyone is suffering from chest pain and any of the other symptoms in combination, that they should seek medical help as quickly as possible.
Call 01603 255 614 to make an appointment with Dr Cairistine Grahame-Clarke, Consultant Cardiologist.
The content of this page is provided for general information only. It should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other healthcare professionals. *Source: Office for National Statistics **Source: gov.uk