How To Look After Your Heart

Heart disease is a condition that affects your heart by narrowing or blocking blood vessels that could lead to a heart attack, chest pain or a stroke. Other conditions that affect heart muscles, or valves are also considered forms of heart disease. Broadly, anything that affects the regular functioning of the heart is considered a heart disease, a term which is often used interchangeably with the term ‘cardiovascular disease’.

Dr Faizal Javed Khan, Specialist-Internal Medicine at Reem Medical Diagnostic Centre, says, “The turn of the century has seen an unparalleled increase in life expectancy and a major shift in the cause of illness and death throughout the world. A century ago, cardiovascular disease accounted for less than 10 percent of all deaths. Today, it accounts for more than 30 percent of deaths worldwide with nearly 40 percent in high income countries and close to 28 percent in low to middle income countries.”

Common heart diseases.

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 is also the most common cause of fatal heart rhythm problems and heart failure.

“The heart is a simple organ. It is a vital muscle pump which supplies oxygen-rich blood to all the other organs in the body. There are essentially only four things that can go wrong with the heart: Plumbing- i.e. blockages in the blood supply to the heart muscle (Coronary Artery Disease), Electrical- i.e. problems with the electric circuits that tell the heart when to pump (Arrhythmias/ heart rhythm disorders), Pump- i.e. heart muscle problems which impair the pumping function of the heart (Heart failure), Valves- i.e. problems with the heart valves that can lead to overall heart pump failure (Valvular heart disease)” explains Dr Adam N Mather, Consultant Interventional Cardiologist at Medicilinic City Hospital.

Also, some heart diseases are congenital, which mainly include hole in the heart, abnormal development of the valves and abnormal course of the chambers and the main vessels of the heart. 

Spotting early signs of heart diseases.

Early detection of heart diseases can certainly save lives, but not all heart conditions show symptoms in early stages, especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle.

Symptoms may vary from no symptoms to vague nonspecific symptoms like fatigue, tiredness, weakness, heart burn, coughing, swelling of the legs, indigestion, nausea, neck and jaw pain, hands and shoulder pains and sweating, adds Dr Janardhana Rao Babburi, Specialist Cardiologist from Aster Clinic, Al Qusais.

Therefore, it is advisable to visit a physician or a cardiologist on a regular basis if you have a family history in heart diseases or if you have the following:
1. Chest discomfort on exertion or at rest
2. Breathlessness on exertion or at rest
3. Palpitations (awareness of one’s own heart beat)
4. Swelling of the legs
5. Transient loss of consciousness

However the main symptom of the most common condition of coronary artery disease is angina (chest pain). Angina is typically a feeling of pressure or tightness in the chest which occurs with exertion, and is eased by rest.

“Diagnosing a heart disease begins with consultation with a doctor who will listen to your complaints, ascertain your personal and family histories, perform a physical examination and ask you to undergo some specific tests. The tests recommended will depend on what condition your doctor thinks you might have,” says Dr Faizal Javed Khan of Reem Medical Diagnostic Centre.

“Heart Diseases can be identified early by taking into consideration the risk factors; age, weight (BMI), hypertension, diabetes, smoking and family history among other factors”, says Dr Gehad El Gergawy, Specialist Cardiologist at HealthBay Polyclinic.

Some simple tests are Electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect abnormalities of the heart rate and rhythm, Echocardiogram to assess the valve, the musculature and the pumping function of the heart, Holter monitoring to keep a record of the electrical activity of the heart, and Cardiac Catheterisation to visualise your coronary arteries after injecting a dye through the tube, also referred to as Coronary Angiography.

How to maintain a healthy heart to avoid disease?

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 Jayachandran Thejus, Specialist Interventional Cardiologist at Zulekha Hospital Sharjah, one should avoid smoking and should be more careful with cholesterol levels if any of your close relatives had coronary artery disease at an age of less than 55 years for male and less than 65 years for female.

Dr Gehad El Gergawy of HealthBay Polyclinic suggests that heart diseases can be avoided by ensuring good blood pressure control (less than 130/80), by ensuring good Diabetes Mellitus control and by ensuring good lipid control (cholesterol lower than 4, low-density lipoproteins below 2).

Dr Gehad El Gergawy further adds, “To minimise the risk of developing a heart disease, it is essential to lead a healthy lifestyle, to stop smoking, to regularly exercise, to maintain a healthy weight and to under-go regular medical check-ups.”

Dr Adam N Mather of Mediclinic City Hospital puts light on the fact that unfortunately in the UAE approximately 65% of adults are overweight or obese according to national statistics. Obesity is a result of sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits and is a cause of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and hypertension. Therefore it is imperative that we encourage regular exercise and healthy diet in order to reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease. The minimum amount of exercise for a healthy adult should be 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week."

Anyone aged 40 and above should undergo regular medical tests to identify if they are at risk or not.

Other tips in maintaining a healthy heart include managing the stress effectively, stopping smoking, limiting the alcohol intake, controlling the risk factors like Diabetes Mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, giving adequate rest to the body and getting enough sleep.

How can heart diseases be treated?

“Once heart diseases are detected, there are various ways it can be treated. Luckily, with the advanced and latest technology and newly developed instruments, presently there is a treatment available for most of the types of heart diseases. For certain diseases, taking simple medications are sufficient to keep our heart healthy. Some diseases require intervention procedures like CATH study, closure of the defects of the heart with some implantable devices, Coronary Angiogram with angioplasty, valvuloplasties, implantation of the devices like pacemakers and ICD/CRT. Sometimes there is a necessity to open the chest and do surgical procedures like the Bypass surgery/CABG, replacement of the valves, taking out the clots/thrombus or masses. Some cardiac problems like arrhythmias require special treatments like Electro Physiological study/3D mapping and Radio Frequency Ablation by using special catheters. The cardiologists will explain to you the available treatment options and decide which treatment best suits you to lead a healthy life”, explains Dr Janardhana Rao Babburi, of Aster Clinic, Al Qusais.

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