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Heart Basics Part 2

Posted by laura.bolton on February 13, 2017 at 9:50 PM

With February upon us, it is a time to acknowledge and celebrate the month of love and friendship as Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but it’s also a month to take a look at what it means to have a healthy and happy heart. Yes, I am a Foot Care Nurse, but at the end of the day I am a nurse first and foremost and I think it’s important to take time to really take a look at what I consider to be one of, if not the most, important organ in the human body – heart.

We hear about heart related diseases all the time and ways to prevent them, but why is it so important to take about the heart when talking about overall health? The biggest reason is that it is the main organ that pumps blood to the rest of the body. This means that it helps to regulate circulation, which as we all know, can affect other areas of the body, like the feet. So it’s clear to see how having a healthy heart can make a difference when it comes to taking care of your feet as well.

We have talked before about how the human body is an incredible and interconnected thing with parts and systems that relate to each other in an almost magical kind of way – bones heal after they break, the liver can regenerate itself, a muscle in your hip can be connected to a tendon in your shoulder, the intestinal tract extracts nutrients from the food we eat – the list is endless and for as much as we know about the body, it’s still a mystery in a lot of ways. We are constantly learning new techniques to help it heal itself and new ways the systems connect. One thing is for sure though; nothing would function without the heart.

So, how do we care for this little organ with big personality? Maintaining an active lifestyle and eat a well-balanced diet are a great way to start. Don’t smoke and finding ways to manage one’s stress are also beneficial for all aspects for your body, not just the heart. However, one of the best things we can do for ourselves and our hearts is to learn the signs and symptoms of the various heart conditions because regardless how healthy we aim to be, it helps to know what to look for in case things don’t go as planned. Prevention is key, knowledge is power.

Here are some known and common heart related diseases and their signs, symptoms and treatment methods.

Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)

What is it?

o Refers to disease of blood vessels outside the heart and brain, often a narrowing of vessels carrying blood to legs, arms, stomach or kidneys. There are two (2) types:

 Functional PVD doesn’t involve blood vessels structure – blood vessels are not physically damaged but have symptoms related to spasms that come and go.

 Organic PVD is caused by structural changes in blood vessels such as inflammation.

• Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a type of organic PVD caused by fatty build up in inner walls

• PAD is dangerous as it can cause blockages and restrict blood flow mainly in arteries leading to kidneys, stomach, arms, legs and feet; can lead to gangrene and amputation in limbs; if blockage in carotid artery can cause a stroke; higher risk of death from stroke and heart attack.

What are some symptoms?

o Early stages of PVD and PAD have common symptoms such as poor leg circulation and cramping, fatigue, heaviness, and pain/discomfort in legs/buttocks during activity.

o Symptoms of PVD and PAD are also related to poor kidney circulation and can include sudden high blood pressure – or blood pressure that is hard to control with medications. Severe blockages can result in loss of kidney function or failure.

How is it diagnosed?

o Diagnosis begins with a full medical history or exam. Your doctor may do an Ankle brachial index (ABI) or other tests such as doppler or duplex usltrasound imaging, Magnetic Resonance Angiogram (MRA), Computed Tomography Angiogram (CAT/CT Scan), or a regular catheter-based angiogram.

What are the treatment methods?

o Lifestyle changes are the biggest factor in finding ways to treat and manage PVD and PAD as well as the use of some medication.

 Lifestyle changes include stopping smoking, finding ways to control diabetes and blood pressure, physical activity, eating a well-balanced diet, the use of high blood pressure medicine or cholesterol lowering medicine, antiplatelet agents to prevent blood clots, or surgery (if medication and lifestyle not enough).

Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)

What is it?

o CHD ia also referred to as atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, hardening of the arteries, heart disease, narrowing of the arteries, or ischemic heart disease.

o Some of the risk factors for bringing the onset of CHD are smoking, high levels of certain fats and cholesterol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and/or insulin resistant diabetes, and blood vessel inflammation.

o Plaque builds up in areas where arteries are damaged and over time the plaque can harden or rupture. Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart and this can this can cause angina (heart pain or discomfort).

o If plaque ruptures, blood cells can stick to damages area forming clots which can further the narrowing of the vessel

What are some symptoms of Angina, a heart attack, heart failure and Arrhythmia?

o Signs of Angina include indigestion, pressure or squeezing in chest, shoulders neck, jaw, or back. Emotional stress can trigger pain as well and pain gets worse with activity and better with rest.

o What is a Heart Attack?

 A heart attack can occur when the blood is blocked from getting to a particular area that is usually due to a clot. If this is not treated quickly the area that is blocked off can die.

 Signs and symptoms include chest pain or discomfort (generally centre or left of heart) that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back, pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain (mild or severe) can feel like indigestion or heart burn, discomfort in one or both arms, back neck jaw or upper part of stomach, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, light headed or fainting, cold sweats, lack of energy, sleep problems, and fatigue.

o Heart failure is condition where the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs

 Signs and symptoms include shortness of breath, trouble breathing, fatigue, swelling in ankles/legs/feet/stomach/veins in neck – symptoms are a result of fluid build-up in body from a lack of circulation.

o Arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of heartbeat (skipping beats or beating too fast)

 Signs and symptoms can include a fluttering feeling in the chest (palpitations) and some arrhythmias can cause the heart to suddenly stop (sudden cardiac arrest), which can cause death if not treated within minutes.

How is it diagnosed?

o A doctor will most likely perform an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) test that records hearts electrical activity to show how fast the heart is beating and rhythm. An EKG also records strength and timing of electrical signals through the heart.

o Stress testing is when you exercise to make your heart work hard and beat fast while you are connected to monitors to show possible signs and symptoms of CHD such as abnormal changes in heart rate or pressure, shortness of breath or chest pain, abnormal changes in rhythm or electrical activity.

o Echocardiography (echo) uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart (shape and size and how well chambers/valves are working) to see if there are any holes in the walls of the chambers that could be causing the abnormalities.

o Chest XRays are also a form of diagnosis where a small dose of radiation is used to take pictures of organs in the chest and can reveal heart failure, lung disorders and other causes of symptoms not related to CHD.

o Blood tests can be performed to checks levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar, and proteins as abnormal levels may mean at risk for CHD

What are the treatment methods?

o Treatment and prevention methods are interchangeable as prevention of CHD is the number one form of treatment. Healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight and finding ways to manage stress help to reduce risk factors. Physical activity and quitting smoking are also suggested as prevention methods. If all else fails, medicines control cholesterol, medical procedures/surgery, or cardiac rehab are options as well.


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