Your heart has one essential job in its lifetime, and that is to keep you alive. Less dramatically speaking, its main purpose is to deliver oxygen and nutrient filled blood to your vital organs. These include the heart itself (it also needs oxygen and nutrients), your brain, liver, kidneys, lungs and so on and so forth. Your heart also has to pump blood so that it can remove carbon dioxide and other waste products from the different cells and tissues of your body.
You need your heart to supply good nutrition to your tissues in order for you to remain active. You do want to remain active right?
Do you have an aching heart?
Let’s find out if your heart is struggling or in trouble. Below is a list of clues you may notice:
What you feel in your daily activities
Why it happens
Easily tired / fatigued
Everyday activities become a burden for you. Going to the dairy, shopping, climbing stairs or simply walking are difficult.
Your heart is unable to supply the much needed oxygen and nutrients to less vital organs. Instead of directing blood to the muscles in your arms and legs, it reroutes blood to your brain and to the heart itself while you walk to the dairy.
You may notice breathing difficulties even while at rest. This can occur especially when you lie flat. Using two or three pillows when you sleep can help with this.
Blood moving from the lungs to the heart gets backed up. This is where congestive heart failure gets its name.
Poor appetite, feelings of nausea most of the time
It’s your favourite comfort food and you don’t have an appetite to devour it!
Your digestive system receives less priority with regards to the blood supply. As a result, you may have indigestion especially after a large meal.
Your feet swell up
Do you have difficulty putting on your shoes in the morning?
Fluid may accumulate in your abdomen or lower extremities.
Because blood returning to your heart backs up, fluid escapes into other spaces like your abdomen and lower limbs.
To make matters worse, your kidneys have problems getting rid of excess sodium in your body which means more fluids are retained.
Faster heart rate, louder heartbeat
You feel your heart pounding (palpitations). It feels like a galloping buck inside!
An irregular heartbeat may also accompany a loud, pounding heart.
In order to compensate for inadequate blood circulating, your heart beats faster and louder to deliver more blood.
Your heart can sometimes panic and beat irregularly as well.
You cough continuously. Your sputum may contain some streaks of blood.
Your respiratory system is trying to eliminate fluid caused by backed up blood from your heart.
Dizziness and weakness
You feel lightheaded and lacking energy most of the time.
This may signal a further decline in your hearts condition, as it indicates that even blood to your brain is compromised.
Note: Remember, there are many types of heart diseases and many of them can present with similar symptoms. Some of the symptoms mentioned above can also be seen in patients with diseases of other organs as well. If you feel any of the clues mentioned above, please consult your healthcare practitioner.
Getting technical: Heart tests that could suggest that you might have an aching heart
In addition to the clues listed above, there are some tests that your healthcare practitioner can request in order to find out more about your heart.
The Chest X-ray. Your heart is about the size of your fist. In a chest x-ray, heart enlargement could be the first clue that you might have an aching (failing) heart. Situations like these are often discovered by a routine chest x-ray done for other purposes (such as a requirement for a new job).
Echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is basically a dynamic ultrasound picture of your heart. You and your healthcare practitioner can readily see how your heart functions. Most importantly, the amount of blood pumped into the circulation (known as ejection fraction) and abnormalities in certain parts of the heart (wall motion abnormalities) will be seen in this test.
Inflammatory markers like CRP. CRP stands for C-reactive protein. If the arteries supplying your heart are inflamed (arteritis) your CRP levels will shoot up. Inflammation of your arteries is associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. In essence, the higher your CRP levels are, the higher your chances of having a stroke or heart attack. Just remember, if you have an ongoing infection, your CRP levels can also shoot up because there’s inflammation at the site of an infection. Don’t forget to tell your doctor where it is.
ESR or erythrocyte sedimentation rate is another inflammatory marker you may use to follow the level of inflammation. Compared to CRP, it’s of less value because it’s more affected by infection and other conditions that promote inflammation.
High homocysteine levels (hyperhomocysteinemia). There is evidence that high homocysteine levels carry a significant risk when it comes to heart failure. High levels can damage the inner lining of your arteries promoting atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in your arteries. Homocysteine is a type of amino acid floating in your blood.
Triglyceride levels. Determination of triglyceride levels is a must if you want to prevent heart disease and promote heart health. This type of lipid (fat) is found in your blood and comes from excess intake of carbohydrates that your body doesn’t make use of right away. If you have hypertriglyceridemia (high triglyceride levels), you’re at an increased risk for heart diseases. High triglyceride levels increase the chances of your arteries clogging up and of having a heart attack or stroke.
HDL levels. HDL stands for High Density Lipoproteins. It’s viewed as the good cholesterol because it helps in the removal of LDL (bad cholesterol, Low Density Lipoproteins) from your arteries. If you have high HDL levels in your test, then that’s a good sign. For once, there’s something that’s good when its elevated.
Lipoprotein (a). Lipoproteins are molecules made up of fat and proteins. This test is used to identify a certain type of lipoprotein called lipoprotein (a). Increased levels of this type of lipoprotein can be a risk factor for having a stroke or heart attack.
HbA1c. This test is usually requested for people at risk of or those who have diabetes. When correlated with heart health, increased HbA1c levels are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. A high HbA1c means that there’s inflammation in the arteries supplying your heart. More inflammation leads to more plaque buildup. This is true for both nondiabetics and diabetics. Better start putting those lollies away.
A Chunk of Fatty Truth about Cholesterol and Statin Medications
Do you know what makes your LDL (low density lipoproteins) high? It’s because of refined carbohydrates and dietary sugars. Not your fat intake. Take that into consideration whenever you stare at the lolly section at the dairy.
Do you take statins to lower your cholesterol? Well, don’t! Numerous studies are now showing that statins are harmful to your health. These studies have shown that statins can depress your immune system, promote memory loss and cause a variety of liver problems.
Support Your Heart, Now!
In order to avoid heart problems, you still have to do your part in maintaining your heart’s health. To most of you, that may be the hardest part. Don’t worry, as long as you know what to do and keep on doing it, you’ll be on the right track towards a healthier heart.
1. Your diet is still the single most modifiable risk factor when it comes to heart disease. It’s something you have control over. Simply cutting down on refined carbohydrates and sugars will bring down your chances of having a heart attack or stroke in the future. Remember, work with a diet regimen that you can live with on a daily basis. We recommend real home made foods (vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, fruit, nuts and seeds), rather than all those processed foods in the supermarkets today.
2. Your heart muscle requires the most antioxidants because it generates the greatest amount of oxidants. You ask why? Well, your heart works 24/7, it doesn’t stop. You know what happens when it stops, so wouldn’t wish for that. Running all day, every single day will surely generate huge amounts of oxidative stress. To help counteract this stress you can load up on antioxidants like coenzyme Q10, astaxanthin and turmeric.
3. Magnesium and selenium are two very important minerals. Magnesium can help enormously with the conditioning of your heart valves. These are small gateways within the chambers of your heart that work overtime to allow and prevent passage of blood. Magnesium also helps the muscles of your heart to relax.Selenium is another mineral that’s often forgotten. It’s required in the production of glutathione peroxidase, a potent antioxidant. If you’re running low on selenium, you’re putting yourself in danger of developing heart disease. To make matters worse, selenium is low in New Zealand and Australian soils. Fight oxidative stress better with this antioxidant mineral.
4. Please visit your dentist. Dental infections can reach and damage the valves in your heart. They accomplish this when they reach the general circulation. You can simply prevent this by having frequent dental visits. Dental gum infections are often silent infections that can surprise you with a heart valve infection (endocarditis) further down the track.
5. Herbs for your heart. The flowers, leaves and berries of the hawthorn can support heart health. The flavonoids found in this herb aid in dilating blood vessels thereby increasing blood flow. They also help to protect your arteries from oxidative damage brought about by stress. Cayenne is another herb that can support heart health. It’s not just used to sharpen the taste of your dishes, it’s also used to aid blood flow through thermogenesis (generation of heat). It contains an active ingredient called capsaicin that increases blood flow to an area by dilating the arteries.
6. Systemic enzymes. Examples of systemic enzymes that benefit heart health include serrapeptase, lumbrokinase and nattokinase. They help to target inflammation and break down fibrin inside your body. As a consequence, your body produces fewer blood clots, plaques and scar tissue that may impede blood flow to a certain area of your body. Special mention goes to nattokinase as it may also helps to modulate blood pressure.
7. Omega-3 essential fatty acids. These fatty acids aren’t called essential for no reason. They primarily target inflammation and increase your body’s capacity to produce anti-inflammatory cytokines. You can get omega-3 either from fatty fish or from algal oil if you’re vegetarian as well as certain seed oils like chia, hemp and flax seed.
8. Exercise! You thought we would forget this one huh? Simply walking or biking around the neighbourhood can do wonders for your heart health. Nobody is asking you to be an Olympic gold medallist. Stop making excuses and get out for an evening walk with a friend.
Your heart deserves the most when it comes to your health. Its function is simple and straightforward. Try to keep these practical tips in mind to maintain better heart health.
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MD, D. L. M., MD, D. P. Z., PhD, P. L. M., & MS, R. O. B. M. (2014). Braunwald’s Heart Disease: a Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine (10th Ed.). D. L. Mann, D. P. Zipes, P. Libby, R. O. Bonow & E. Braunwald (Eds.). Saunders.
Longo, D., Fauci, A., Kasper, D., Hauser, S., Jameson, J., & Loscalzo, J. (2012). Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. (18th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Professional.