7 things you need to know about your heart
Learn more about this vital organ – and how to look after yours
1. Your heart is a pump that sends blood around your body to keep you alive. It beats around 100,000 times each day, and continuously pumps about eight pints of blood around your circulatory system. The blood delivers oxygen and nutrients all over your body and carries away carbon dioxide and waste products.
2. Roughly the size of your fist, it’s an organ that has four chambers. To work, your heart needs a constant supply of blood. Most heart attacks are caused when this supply stops due to an artery blockage within the heart. Learn the symptoms of a heart attack.
3. Coronary heart disease affects 2.3 million people in the UK. It is caused by a build-up of waxy, fatty material called atheroma within the walls of the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart. When the arteries become too narrow due to the build-up they cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to your heart. This causes angina, which has symptoms such as pain or heaviness in your chest, while some people can also feel a shortness of breath. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease, when a piece of atheroma breaks off the artery and forms a blockage.
4. Risk factors for coronary heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, being overweight or obese, and being physically inactive. Hereditary and ethnic factors can increase your risk too. Find out more here. If you are concerned see your GP, and the British Heart Foundation has excellent advice.
5. Abnormal heart rhythms can mean an irregular, slow or a fast heartbeat. Symptoms include dizziness, palpitations, breathlessness, fatigue and losing consciousness. If you are experiencing these speak to your GP, as you may need an ECG to assess your heart rate and rhythm. Treatments can include medication, or a procedure such as a cardioversion (which sends electrical signals to the heart through electrodes placed on the chest) or a catheter ablation (a procedure to rectify the arrhythmia by passing tiny tubes through the heart’s blood vessels to pinpoint the problem, then destroy the area that is causing the issue). Other procedures include inserting a device to regulate the heartbeat, such as a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
6. More than half a million people in the UK live with heart failure, when your heart isn’t pumping blood around the body as effectively as it should. Symptoms include shortness of breath, swollen feet, ankles, stomach and the lower back area – as well as feeling very tired or weak. Common causes are high blood pressure, a heart attack or a disease of the heart muscle, cardiomyopathy.
Heart failure isn’t just a ‘man’s disease’. Women can also experience heart failure, but it is less likely to be diagnosed. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to speak to a doctor regardless of gender
7. Lifestyle choices can have a big impact on how likely you are to develop heart disease. Stopping smoking is vital, and keeping active (unless advised otherwise by your GP) and eating for a healthy heart are strongly advised. Also check out our tips on how to lower your ‘heart age’.
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