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FAQ’s About Heart Health Answered By A Cardiologist

  • timeline Dr B. Hygriv Rao
  • 3 Min Read
  • Fact Checked

While we may not give much thought to our heart health as we get older, it’s important to understand why it’s time to focus on it. Your heart works every day to make sure you’re healthy, and is the most important muscle in your body. Your heart deserves a great amount of care, from exercising to a good diet. Senior cardiologist Dr B. Hygriv Rao answers some of the most important frequently asked questions about the heart. 

How can I reduce my risk of a heart attack?

Heart attacks can be reduced by addressing risk factors. There are conventional factors such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, increased cholesterol and a family history of heart attacks and non conventional factors such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle and stress.

What are the causes of a heart attack?

There are 3 major blood vessels which supply oxygen to the muscle of the heart. A heart attack is caused by complete occlusion of any of these blood vessels. Progressively over the years cholesterol deposits accumulate in these vessels and are called plaques. In a particular instant there is an erosion of these plaques leading to a local clot formation cutting off blood supply completely. This leads to intense chest pain or breathlessness which is the manifestation of heart attacks. Any of the risk factors conventional or non conventional can result in cholesterol deposition in arteries.

Can a heart attack last all day?

The pain of a heart attack can be quite intense and makes the patient and family seek medical attention. However, in some cases, particularly diabetics, pain may not exist or may be tolerable. In such cases patients may delay coming to a hospital. This may lead to the heart muscle getting damaged continuously over the whole day. These patients present with complications of a heart attack.

Can stress cause a heart attack?

Stress is a major contributor to heart attacks. Stress leads to increased circulation of hormones like adrenaline. These lead to increased heart rates, and blood pressure. These can lead to rupture of plaques and clot formation. Furthermore, by unknown mechanisms stress causes increased plaque deposition in arteries.

Can someone have a heart attack even if they are healthy?

Heart attack can occur in an apparently normal person, and in fact can present with sudden death too. Some of them have risk factors like diabetes but no cardiac symptoms. Heart attack can occur suddenly. Many of such patients have rarely or never got routine blood test done. In India, it’s not uncommon to see patients presenting with a heart attack and then realizing that they have diabetes/hypertension since a long time. This is because they never got their blood tests done before.

What happens to your heart after a heart attack?

A heart attack causes damage to the heart muscle. It can be a small area or a large area depending on the artery which is blocked and time taken by the patient to reach hospital. The longer the time taken the larger is the damage. This damage leads to decreasing the efficiency of pumping of the heart and is called left ventricular dysfunction. If a large area is involved it leads to heart failure. Another problem that can occur is that heart attacks cause a scar which can result in dangerous ventricular rhythm disturbances that can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.

Why are so many young people having heart attacks even after keeping a healthy lifestyle?

The mean age of heart attacks in our country is around 50 years which is lesser than that in western countries. About 25% of heart attacks occur in patients under 40 years of age. There is increasing rates of obesity in our country with sedentary life styles. There is also a high prevalence of diabetes with high HBA1C and triglycerides and also an  increased consumption of refined foods, carbohydrates and fats. Furthermore, there are increased stress levels in younger population. All these factors contribute to heart attacks in the younger population.

Can you have a heart attack while sleeping?

Heart attacks can occur at any time. There is increased occurrence in very early hours in the morning. Some of them cause sudden death in sleep.

Are intensive exercises bad for heart health?

Exercise needs to be tailored for age, physical stamina and past physical exertion. The amount of exercise a person should or can do should be individualized.

What is a healthy heart diet?

A diet with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, with no excess of carbohydrates, fats and calories is good. Adequate proteins like eggs, soya, pulses, chicken and fish constitute a good heart diet.

If you have a pre-existing heart condition, or have a family history of heart conditions, or are simply worried about your heart health, consulting a cardiologist as early as possible is advised. Delaying treatment for heart conditions can become complicated very quickly, especially if not addressed on time – do not self diagnose, or self medicate.

  • timeline
  • Written by

    Dr B. Hygriv Rao

Senior cardiologist, Director Pacing and Electrophysiology, KIMS group of Hospitals, Hyderabad

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