Life is where the heart is

What you need to know about your heart

The heart, famous in February, timeless in its symbolism for love and emotion, and drawn across school binders and notebooks for years.

When we think of the heart these are what usually crosses our minds, but what is the true function of the heart? What is the importance of the drumming in the left side of our chest? And how can we assure that it maintains its health for a long and fulfilling life?

The function our hearts
The heart is one of the most important organs of your body. “It functions as a pump in the circulatory system to provide a continuous flow of blood throughout the body” says Dr. Carla Sleiman, Specialist Cardiologist at Medcare Medical Centre in Jumeirah. It usually beats from 60 to 100 times per minute but can go much faster when necessary. With every single heartbeat, the heart provides the circulation of blood to the entire body, “Blood pumped by the heart delivers oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body and carries away unwanted carbon dioxide and waste products” adds Chief of Cardiology, Dr Allam Alkowatli, at Emirates Hospital Dubai. When the heart pumps, red oxygen rich blood is distributed to all organs of the body. Blue, oxygen-poor blood then returns from all parts of the body back to the right side so to be cleared again for the next cycle. Not only does the heart support the system of every organ but the function of each too.

Benefits of a healthy heart
The heart is responsible for everything that gives our bodies life from the transport of oxygen to our organs to the effectiveness of our immune systems, so the importance of maintaining a good heart is beyond measure. A well and maintained cardiovascular system not only supports the hearts function but also the arteries, veins, and capillaries of our bodies, also contributing to our energy levels, moods and emotions, strength, balance and much more.

“A healthy cardiovascular system provides efficient transport of the absorbed nutrients and helps in the conversion of the food you eat into energy the cells can use” Dr. Mohamed Seif who is a Senior Consultant Cardiologist at University Hospital Sharjah. “A good heart also effects the ease at which the cardiovascular system can pump, and transport blood and the enhanced energy production decreases the risk of chronic disease” he adds. The health of our hearts even affects the temperature regulation of our bodies.

Common illnesses
There are many different heart conditions which are collectively called heart disease. They can occur at any age and are one of the leading causes of death. Coronary Artery Disease, or more commonly known as heart attacks, are one the most common heart related illnesses. “Coronary Artery Disease occurs when there is an interruption in the pumping of blood by the heart due to blockages in the blood tubes” adds Specialist Internal Medicine at Mediclinic Al Bahir, Dr. Raji Mathew “these blockages occur due to the deposition of cholesterol and related material within the lumen of the blood tubes.”

Dr Ilaria Saredi Family Medicine Specialist at Allied Medical Center says that other common heart diseases include valvular heart issues. “There are four valves in our heart (aortic, pulmonary, tricuspid and mitral) that make sure the blood flow stays in a one-way direction through the heart circulatory system”, she says. Problems arise when a valve becomes too stiff restricting the blood flow, or even becoming leaky cause blood to flow backwards.

Other illnesses include Arrhythmias which are when there a disturbance leads to the heart having skipped, abnormally fast or low heart rates, heart failure. Another is Angina, when the heart muscle cannot pump to meet the body’s demands for blood and oxygen causing discomfort in your chest, arm, neck, stomach or jaw.

Spotting early signs of heart disease
Although not all heart disease may show symptoms, others depend on what type of heart disease one may have. “Chest pain in coronary artery disease, shortness of breath, swelling of legs and weakness in heart failure, irregular heartbeats, and fainting in valvular heart diseases" says Dr. Carla Sleiman from Medcare. Although there are some symptoms that require immediate consultation she advises. These include:
• Chest discomfort
• Indigestion, heartburn, stomach pain
• Dizziness or light-headedness,
• Irregular heart beats
• Shortness of breath
• Swelling of legs, feet, and ankles
• Sweating

When addressing heart disease, the best advice is to monitor yourself before you develop established heart disease, called primary prevention adds Dr. Haitham Al Hashimi from Dubai London Clinic. “This is done by having regular checks with a specialist and monitoring of your blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.” Though if you suspect you have a heart disease, doctors have a range of tests to figure out the type and severity of the disease. These tests include an electrocardiogram also known as ECG or EKG and a stress test or also known as a treadmill test. Both will analyse the heart’s activity and showing any problems in blood flow.

Dr. Allam Alkowatli at Emirates Hospital Dubai adds that other procedures to address heart disease include taking medication, often used to treat high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, or heart disease itself, and advanced heart disease may even require surgical procedures to improve blood flow. These procedures are usually done to ease severe chest pain or to clear blockages in blood vessels such what typically happens in new angina or heart attacks.

Maintaining a healthy heart
Although it is of no doubt that the best cure for heart disease, is prevention. It is best to make a lifestyle change to make sure you are maintaining a healthy heart. According to Dr. Haitham Al Hashimi, a study demonstrated that a combination of various lifestyle changes had the potential in reducing heart disease in men up to 80%. If you have certain risk factors of heart disease like hyper tension, diabetes, high tobacco uses and high cholesterol, these can be controlled with healthier choices in eating, maintaining a healthy weight and being consistently physically active. 

When it comes to nutrition, Dr. Ilaria Saredi at Allied Medical Center advises to adopt a balanced diet. “Aim to keep in check processed foods and saturated fat levels.” She says, “Watch out on red meat, salt, and sweet foods, try to add more fruit and vegetables to attain your 5-a-day goal. Don’t forget to switch to whole meal flour alternatives and introduce legumes that will be useful for your intestinal health.”

Other tips to maintain a healthy heart include reducing stress, decreasing intake of alcohol and especially tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight according to your Body Mass Index, get enough sleep, and even make sure you take care of your dental hygiene- as those who have gum disease are often at the same risk factors for heart disease.

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