Ahead of World Heart Rhythm Week between 5th – 11th June, we sat down with Dr Bhavik Modi, who is a Consultant Cardiologist in the East Midlands, London and at the Nuffield Health Leicester Hospital, to talk about all things heart, and here’s what Dr Modi had to say.
What should we know about our hearts?
The main function of the heart is to pump blood around the body. Blood is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body and carrying away toxins, carbon dioxide, and other waste from the tissue.
The coronary arteries supply blood directly to the heart muscle to enable it to beat commonly between 60-100 times per minute. The heartbeat is kept steady through a specific network of electrical connections within the heart. If these electrical connections are disturbed, the heart can end up beating irregularly, too quickly or too slowly.
Coronary artery disease (often resulting in angina and heart attacks) is the most common heart problem. It is characterized by narrowings or blockages in the coronary arteries, which supply blood directly to the heart muscle.
Other heart diseases include the following:
- Heart arrhythmias: If the heart’s electrical connections are disturbed, the heart can end up beating irregularly, too quickly or too slowly.
- Heart failure: This is described as a long-term reduction in the heart’s pumping capability due to conditions such as coronary heart disease, thyroid disorders, cardiomyopathy, or hypertension.
- Heart valve disease: Your heart contains valves that direct the movement of blood between the four chambers of the heart, the lungs, and blood vessels. Valve disease is characterized by an abnormality of these valves that impairs their proper opening and closing.
- Congenital heart disease: This refers to the heart defects people are born with.
- Endocarditis: This is an infection that occurs inside the heart.
Knowing the symptoms
Coronary artery disease can present with chest pain, shortness of breath, and pain in the neck, jaw, or arms. You may not know you have coronary artery disease until you have a heart attack, arrhythmia, angina, stroke, or heart failure.
Heart arrhythmias are usually accompanied by heart palpitations or fluttering in the chest. Light-headedness, fainting, or breathlessness can also occur.
Heart failure and disease of the heart muscle can present with shortness of breath, swollen feet, and general fatigue.
Heart Rhythm Problems
An abnormality in heart rhythm is called an arrhythmia. Symptoms of arrhythmia often include
- Palpitations or flutterings in the chest
- Feeling faint or light-headed
Recommended Test for Heart Rhythm Problems
If an arrhythmia is suspected, the following tests may be recommended by your Cardiologist to establish a diagnosis.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – heart tracing
- Blood tests (including thyroid function)
- A 24-hour, 72-hour or 7-day ECG heart monitor
- Echocardiogram – to look for structural heart abnormalities that can cause arrhythmia
- Cardiac MRI – to further look for structural heart abnormalities that can cause abnormalities (but also to assess if there is a problem with the heart’s blood supply)
- An implantable loop recorder – a small monitor under the skin to interrogate symptoms that occur infrequently.
What happens next?
Once a diagnosis is made, the Cardiologist can initiate medication or therapy for common arrhythmias (such as Atrial Fibrillation or Ventricular Ectopics). On rare occasions, further intervention is necessary in the form of a pacemaker, defibrillator or ablations. Your Cardiologist can refer you to relevant specialists that specialise in these procedures.