As most people are born with a healthy heart they tend to think they have years before they need to worry about heart problems.1a However, complications can occur at any age - all the more reason to give your heart the support it deserves.1b
How your heart works to keep you alive
Located centrally in your chest, between your lungs, leaning slightly to the left, your heart is approximately the size of your clenched fist.2
If you gently press down on an artery anywhere under your skin, on your neck or just under your thumb on the inside of your wrist for example, you can feel your pulse or heart ‘beat’. 3a Your heart beat is in fact the muscular walls of your heart contracting (squeezing) non-stop, keeping you alive by pumping blood throughout your body.3b This is important for supplying the oxygen and nutrients your body needs to work properly.3c
Each day, your heart beats approximately 115 000 times and pumps approximately 2 000 gallons of blood.4
What causes heart problems?
The terms cardiovascular disease and heart disease are often used interchangeably to describe heart problems but they are not the same thing. Cardiovascular disease is a general term for conditions affecting the heart (cardio) or blood vessels (vascular). When people speak of heart disease they usually mean coronary heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of dealth worldwide.
What is coronary heart disease
Your heart needs oxygen to work properly. Coronary heart disease is a condition where the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart is blocked or reduced, putting increased strain on your heart, which can trigger:5a
- Angina – chest pain from restricted blood flow to your heart
- Heart attack – when the blood flow to your heart is suddenly blocked
- Heart failure – when your heart muscle fails to pump blood around your body properly5b
Possible warning signs and symptoms of heart problems
When most people think of signs of heart trouble they think of chest pain, which is the most obvious warning sign. However, your first symptom might not be a pain in your chest. In some cases, heart trouble such as a heart attack, can occur without an obvious warning sign. 1c, 6a
What to look out for
- Chest pain, heaviness, tightness, pressure, a pinching or burning sensation
- Pain in your shoulders and arms, particularly down your left arm, throat, jaw or back
- Shortness of breath from small bursts of activity that do not usually make you breathless
- Swollen hands, legs, feet or ankles
- Excessive tiredness even though you have not changed your usual routine
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or stomach pain not caused by something you ate
- Lightheadedness or dizziness where you suddenly feel unsteady on your feet
- Snoring loudly resulting in a gasping or choking could be a sign of sleep apnea – a condition that occurs while asleep when you stop breathing momentarily at different times of the night
- Sweating, feeling clammy and hot together with chest pains - not from physical exercise
- Dry or persistent cough, or a wheezing, restricted or choking sensation in your throat
- Irregular heart beat particularly if your heart beats rapidly and feels as though it is jumping around6b, 7
The more risk factors you have the more likely you are to put excess pressure on your heart and develop heart problems. While genetics are a factor, lifestyle choices good and bad can significantly impact your heart health.8
Risk factors you cannot change
- Gender (males are more likely to have heart problems)
- Increasing age
- Genetics – heredity or family history of heart problems
- Post-menopausal women9a
Risk factors you can change
- Smoking - stop
- High ‘bad’ cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Obesity and overweight (particularly around the waist)
- Uncontrolled stress
- Too much alcohol
- Healthy diet9b
Concerned about developing heart problems?
If you are worried about developing heart problems, talk to your doctor. He or she will advise you about what you can do to reduce your risk, and maintain or improve your heart health, particularly if there is a history of cardiovascular problems in your family.
Please note: This is educational information only and should not be used for diagnosis. For more information on heart health, consult your healthcare professional.
⦁ Everyday Health. Heart Health is Important at Every Age. Available at: https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/heart-health-is-important-at-every-age.aspx. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ Cardio Smart. How the Heart Works. Available at: https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Basics/How-the-Heart-Works. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ Kids Health. Your Heart & Circulatory System. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/heart.html. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ Healthline. Fun Fact About the Heart You Didn’t Know. Available at: ⦁ https://www.healthline.com/health/fun-facts-about-the-heart#1. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ NHS. Cardiovascular Disease. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cardiovascular-disease/. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ Harvard Health Publishing. 5 overlooked symptoms that may signal heart trouble. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/5-overlooked-symptoms-that-may-signal-heart-trouble. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ British Heart Foundation – Heart Matters. 11 Signs you might have heart disease. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/medical/11-signs-you-might-have-heart-disease. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ Massachusetts General Hospital. Heart Attack. Available at: https://www.massgeneral.org/conditions/condition.aspx?id=204. Accessed 3 April 2019. ⦁ American Heart Association. Understand Your Risks to Prevent a Heart Attack. Available at: Massachusetts General Hospital. Heart Attack. Available at: https://www.massgeneral.org/conditions/condition.aspx?id=204. Accessed 3 April 2019. Accessed 3 April 2019.