This week is Heart Week, which began on Monday, 3 May and ends on Sunday, 9 May and is an opportunity for healthcare professionals to engage with patients about the risks of developing cardiovascular disease and the way to lower the risk.
There are few people better qualified to talk about “Heart Health” in Australia than Clinical Associate Professor Arthur Nasis who is with the Department of Medicine at Monash University.
A consultant cardiologist and cardiac imaging specialist, Associate Professor Nasis told Neos Kosmos that there were three key issues that related to heart health and heart attacks in particular.
He said the first key point was to know the symptoms of a heart attack – the most commonly recognised symptom being the pain in the chest.
“A chest pain that feels like a squeezing sensation that lasts for 10 minutes or more is one of the key signs of a heart attack. The pain can then spread to the jaw and down the arms and it is often accompanied by feelings of nausea, sweating, vomiting and dizziness,” A/Prof Nasis said.
READ MORE: Life after a heart attack
“Sometimes there is no chest pain that goes with a heart attack. If you think you have any of the symptoms, dial 000 and call for an ambulance. Don’t try to try to drive yourself to a hospital or get a taxi.”
He said the ambulance crews were trained to deal with emergencies and could deal with the patient as soon as they arrived on the scene. They could then alert the hospital ahead of their arrival so that the right medical team would be waiting for the patient’s arrival.
“The quicker you call, the quicker you will receive the treatment to avert the damage to the heart and its muscles,” A/Prof Nasis said.
A heart attack was due to a narrowing or blockage of the arteries to the heart. The longer the flow of blood to the heart was blocked, the more damage was likely to be done to the muscles of the heart which needed a flow of blood to keep the heart pumping.
“Once a blockage is diagnosed, we can quickly work to unblock the heart and save the heart muscle from further damage,” said A/Prof Nasis. “In a lot of cases we can restore the health of the heart if we can act quickly.”
He said that even if a chest pain was not the result of a heart attack, it could signal other serious, even life-threatening problems that needed urgent medical attention, such as from gastrointestinal disorders, ulcers, problems with the lungs and inflammations of the chest and ribs.
The second key point is knowing in advance of the most important risk factors that could lead to a heart attack, such as risks posed to the heart by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and a family history of heart disease.
Other risk factors to consider include not being physically active, not exercising enough and maintaining poor diets.
“Know your numbers and get regular check-ups from your doctor” said A/Prof Nasis. “Talk to your doctor and find out what you need to do to protect yourself from heart attacks in the future.”
He recommended 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise (that doubles your normal heart rate), such as a light walk, five times a week. Your GP will guide you as to what is optimal.
“You don’t need expensive gym contracts or expensive sporting gear, just get out and walk, cycle or play sport to get the heart going. There is no need to run, a brisk walk is all that is needed.
He said that besides being good for the heart, regular exercise also helped to reduce joint and muscle problems, promoted a sense of wellbeing and also reduced the risk for some cancers.
The third key point was to spread the word.
“It amazes me how many people are unaware of the risks posed by heart attacks. People need to be aware of the signs. By educating ourselves, we can make a difference. So much of preventing heart disease is in our own hands.”
Through regular check-ups, regular exercise, good diet, we can substantially reduce the risk of a heart attack.
A/Prof Nasis said the process of the narrowing of the arteries can begin 10 to 30 years before the blockage finally occurs.
“Once a blockage happens, it is very quick, we are looking at hours to salvage the problem once it happens. Regular check ups should take place after 40 years of age to avoid problems later in life,” said A/Prof Nasis.
♦ For more information about the things you can do to improve the health of your heart, visit Associate Professor Arthur Nasis’ website.