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Thinking about heart disease or the prospect of having a heart attack over the festive season is not normally on the minds of many people.
But if you weigh over your recommended body mass index (BMI), have high cholesterol, smoke, regularly drink alcohol or suffer from anxiety and stress, you are at a higher danger of having a heart attack. Combined with overindulging in food and alcohol during the festive season and the additional stress of Christmas, this can be a deadly combination for your heart.
Research also indicates that getting older increases the possibility of developing heart disease, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about that! Although the degree of risk varies across different studies, it is widely recognised that after the age of 30 your risk increases, and by the age of 65, your risk of a heart attack could be seven times greater.
Signs and symptoms
But whatever your age it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Here are nine common symptoms to look out for:
- Easily becoming breathless
- Unexplained fatigue
- Heart palpitations (increased heart rate)
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed
- Chest discomfort and pain, that starts when you exert yourself and stop when you rest
- Stomach pain and regular indigestion
- Pain in your legs and cramping sensations when walking
- Swollen ankles
If you experience any of the above symptoms you should contact your GP so that they check for underlying medical conditions. You should always seek immediate medical assistance if you experience:
- Pain in one or both arms and, or sides
- Severe chest pain, this may feel as if there is a weight on your chest or your chest is being constricted
- Difficulty breathing and struggling to breathe deeply
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- Sudden onset of sweating for no reason or skin clamminess
Diagnosing Heart Disease
Early diagnosis of coronary heart disease (CHD) may prevent a heart attack. If you have symptoms you are concerned about, the first steps for diagnosis of heart disease will normally include a physical exam, a blood pressure test, blood tests and a chest X-ray. Depending on the results you might be referred to a Consultant Cardiologist and other tests may be recommended including:
This test involves putting sticky sensors on your chest that are attached to an ECG machine to record the electrical signals produced by your heartbeats. It can help to detect a fast or slow heartbeat and irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), but it does not always detect coronary heart disease (CHD) and is often combined with other tests. There are three types of ECG:
- Resting ECG – performed when you are sitting or lying down
- Stress ECG – performed when you are using a treadmill or exercise bike
- 24 to 48-hour ECG, also called a Holter monitor – a small portable ECG machine is worn for a set time period and you continue with normal daily activities.
This is a type of ultrasound scan that creates images of the heart and shows the movement of blood through the heart. It is used to help detect several conditions including if a heart valve is narrow or leaking, a buildup of fluid in the sac around the heart, called the pericardium, or if the heart muscle is weak or has been damaged from a heart attack.
Cardiac Catheterisation and Coronary Angiogram
This is a type of X-ray used to examine your heart’s blood vessels to check if coronary arteries are narrowed or blocked. It is painless and involves inserting a small catheter (tube) into your arm, groin or leg, which injects dye into your arteries so that they can be seen more clearly on the X-ray.
Computerized Tomography (CT) Heart Scan
A CT scan involves lying in an open-ended, tube-shaped machine containing an X-ray tube that rotates around your body. It is used to detect a build-up of plaque and narrowing or blockage of the arteries.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Heart Scan
An MRI scan is normally done in a machine that is fully enclosed. If you are claustrophobic, it can be very stressful and you may want to request an open MRI machine. It is used to check how the heart muscle, valves and chambers are functioning and may help diagnose a range of heart conditions including, coronary heart disease, disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) and heart valve disease.
It is also important to accept that even if you do not have any symptoms, you could still have heart or circulatory disease. Regardless of your age, if you live a high-risk lifestyle, you should speak to your GP for support to make changes.
Tools, resources and support for people and families living with heart disease and failure: