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When should I see a cardiac specialist?

We all feel run down or unwell from time to time, but it’s important to know when symptoms could be a sign of something more serious – especially in the case of heart conditions. We spoke to Dr Anthony Chow, Consultant Cardiologist at The Wellington Hospital, about the common cardiac symptoms to look out for, when to seek specialist support and the sorts of tests and scans that are part of a diagnosis.

What sort of cardiac symptoms should I look out for?

Cardiac symptoms can manifest in a number of different ways, many of them might not even appear to be heart-related, for example, disturbed sleep or poor energy levels. However, these can all be related to inefficiencies in your heart, building up over time.

One common symptom of a heart problem, and often a heart rhythm disorder, is your heart beating out of its normal rhythm. Some people may feel like their heart is ‘fluttering' or beating too fast. Dizziness or fainting are two symptoms which should also be investigated, as they could indicate that your circulation is being impacted.

You should also look out for any reduction in your ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. If you’re breathless or struggling to exercise as normal, this could be a sign of heart disease. Chest tightness, that sometimes rises to the arms or jaw can be an indicator that the heart isn’t getting enough blood because arteries are narrowing or blocked. This can put you at risk of a heart attack, so it’s important to see your doctor.

What puts people at greater risk of heart failure?

Heart failure happens when the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly. As we get older, our arteries can become harder due to the build-up of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances, which can make certain heart conditions more likely. Other pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes also put you at greater risk, as well as a family history of heart disease.

That’s not to say that younger people who don’t fall into the above risk groups can't be affected. The youngest person I’ve treated for a heart attack was 19 years old – in this case, and many others, lifestyle factors such as smoking, recreational drug use, obesity and excessive alcohol consumption can all put strain on the heart and lead to problems at any age.

If I’m concerned about my heart health – what should be my next steps?

If you’re concerned, speak to a cardiologist, or ask for your GP to refer you to a cardiologist for further investigation. There are two groups of cardiologists. The ‘electricians’ who treat heart rhythm disorders, such and the ‘plumbers’ who specialise in the structural condition of your valves and arteries. If your heart seems to be beating irregularly or you’re having what seem to be heart palpitations, you may want to see the former, but if you’re experiencing chest tightness, fatigue and dizziness, you might want to see the latter.

If you don’t have these symptoms but are still concerned, cardiac symptoms are not always clear-cut, so it’s important you seek medical advice.

What happens after an initial consultation with a cardiologist?

Depending on what your symptoms are, your cardiologist might refer you for tests and scans. Often cardiac patients will have an ECG, which looks at the electrical activity of your heart and can be used to determine how fast its beating, whether it's worn out, and whether you’ve had previous cardiac incidents.

You may also be referred for a cardiac echo – an ultrasound that looks at the structure of your heart to identify any potential damage or defects.

What if I don’t any have symptoms, but I fall into one of the high-risk groups?

Sometimes we see patients with a family history of heart disease or other risk factors, who want to understand what condition their heart is in and if they need to be more careful about their lifestyle choices. In this case, we undertake a screening to check cholesterol and blood pressure to see if you would benefit from any medication or lifestyle changes. This can easily be done through simple blood tests and provide reassurance and help you plan for the future.


Learn more about the cardiac care we offer at HCA UK