Affairs of the Heart



Affairs of the Heart
(Part 1)

by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher


            February is Heart Health Month, and as such, is the perfect time to address “affairs of the heart” in all their myriad types.  Some types of heart health factors, such as diet and exercise, are well known and often discussed.  Other aspects of heart health, including stress levels, personal relationships, sleep quality, and life satisfaction “ratings” are addressed less often and are too frequently downplayed as minor influences on cardiovascular health, when in fact, these issues can be major players in the game of heart attack and stroke prevention.
            All of the above listed heart health factors will be addressed this month, but first, let’s take a look at the warning signs of heart attack, stroke, and atrial fibrillation so that we can be better prepared to recognize and deal with a crisis should we be faced with one ourselves or among those persons around us.


            Heart attack warning signs often include one or more of the following:

            • Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and then returns.  The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

            • Upper body discomfort or pain in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach can also be heart attack warning signs.

            • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort is another common symptom.

            • Other signs of heart attack are nausea, lightheadedness, and breaking out in a cold sweat.

            This last group of symptoms is more common in women, and sadly, frequently results in women being misdiagnosed as having anxiety or panic attacks.


            Stroke warning signs include the subsequent list of symptoms:

            • Sudden-onset numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body, can indicate stroke.

            • Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding is also common.

            • A sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes can be symptomatic of stroke.

            • Stroke may also be indicated by a sudden-onset of trouble walking, dizziness, and loss of balance or coordination.

            • A sudden, severe headache with no known cause can be indicative of stroke as well.

            About Atrial Fibrillation:

Atrial fibrillation is another serious heart condition with which we should all be familiar.  Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related problems.  AFib is the most common serious heart rhythm abnormality in people older than 65 years.  Untreated AFib doubles the risk of heart related deaths, and causes a four-to-five-fold increased risk for strokes.  Unfortunately, many people are unaware they have the condition or may not realize the seriousness of the disorder, even if aware of its presence.
            Because AFib is a common and potentially life-threatening problem, we should all be familiar with the symptoms of this condition as well.


            Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include the following:

            • Rapid and irregular heartbeat

            • Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest

            • Dizziness

            • Shortness of breath and anxiety

            • Weakness

            • Faintness or confusion

            • Fatigue when exercising

            • Sweating

            •Chest pain or pressure

            Interestingly, some people with AFib have no symptoms at all, putting them at great risk of heart related problems because their condition goes unrecognized and untreated.

            Of course, the preferred path of life would be for no one to ever have to suffer from heart attacks, strokes, or atrial fibrillation, but because such an idyllic situation is not possible, we should do all we can to protect our cardiovascular systems and keep them working as well as possible for as long as possible.
            Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to help ourselves.  Dietary and supplement advice is so large a category to examine that it deserves its own article and will get one later this month.  Also later this month, we’ll look at the effects of sleep quality (and quantity) and stress levels on the heart’s health.
            For now, let’s take a moment to think about our personal and professional relationships, as well as our daily interactions with strangers and how all of these person-to-person contacts can help or hurt our heart health.  With Valentine’s Day so close in time to the present, we can (and should) think warm thoughts about those we love and reach out to them.  Their and our hearts will benefit from the positive emotions and attention.
            What we probably don’t often think about around Valentine’s Day (or any other time) is true, genuine forgiveness of those people who have caused us hurt or disappointment of some kind.  Both everyday experience and scientific studies have shown that holding on to grudges, anger, jealousy, resentment, and similar negative emotions raises stress levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar, putting the heart and cardiovascular system in greater peril.
            If negative emotions are at the forefront of your mind more often than you’d like, try letting go of these hurts or angry feelings.  Try forgiveness, seeing things from another person’s point of view, or thinking calming thoughts when feeling overwhelmed with negativity.  Your heart and cardiovascular system will thank you for it, and who knows, a fresh, more optimistic outlook may even lead to figuring out a way to deal with a difficult relationship constructively for all concerned.
            Ditto the above approach for dealing with everyday frustrations.  If someone rudely cuts in line at the grocery store (or on the freeway), find constructive ways to rise above the event and not let it ruin your day or your health.  Learning to dial back everyday stress is a proven method of making life more pleasant and heart health better.
            We’ll look at more ways to help your “ticker” keep strong for years to come in our next installment of “Affairs of the Heart (Part 2)”, available later this month, probably around February 20th.


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