Understanding our heart health – don’t miss a beat 

By Dr Afzal Sohaib, consultant cardiologist at The Harley Street Clinic and Chiswick Medical Centre.

The heart is a powerful organ. It beats 100,000 times a day, and each minute in that day, it pumps five litres of blood around the body. It has such an important job – yet 7.4 million people in the UK are living with heart and circulatory conditions.

Keeping pace with your heart

World Heart Rhythm Week (taking place between 1-7 June 2020) is a time to acknowledge the prevalence of heart conditions and promote the timely and effective diagnosis and treatment of arrhythmias. Arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems) are experienced by more than two million people a year in the UK – however if properly managed, most patients with these complaints can live a normal life.

Understanding the main types of heart arrhythmia

Important types of arrhythmia include:

· atrial fibrillation (AF) – this is one of the most common types, where the heart beats irregularly and faster than normal
· supraventricular tachycardia – episodes of abnormally fast heart rate at rest
· bradycardia – the heart beats more slowly than normal
· heart block – the heart beats more slowly than normal and can cause people to collapse
· ventricular fibrillation – a rare, rapid and disorganised rhythm of heartbeats that rapidly leads to loss of consciousness and sudden death if not treated immediately.

How do I know if I have a heart rhythm problem?

There are a number of arrhythmia symptoms to look out for – however having these symptoms will not always mean you have a heart rhythm problem. It’s advised to speak with a consultant cardiologist, or your GP, if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:

· palpitations
· feeling dizzy
· fainting
· shortness of breath.

Is an irregular heartbeat serious?

For anyone unfortunate enough to "blackout" or have palpitations (a rapidly increased and pounding heartbeat), there’s no denying it can be a distressing experience. Compounded by the fact they often occur out of the blue. However, in many cases, these symptoms can be controlled.

Some electrical abnormalities in their heart can often be treated with prescribed medication. Making small lifestyle changes can improve the health of your heart and help with certain heart rhythm problems such as atrial fibrillation.

Make healthy lifestyle changes

In some cases, living a healthier lifestyle can ease symptoms. It's recommended you:

· improve your diet – making sure you’re getting your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables
· cut down or stop smoking
· follow a regular exercise routine
· reduce your alcohol intake.

If you have an unresolved heart complaint, you must visit a consultant cardiologist or GP so that they can quickly assess your symptoms. If further treatment is required, we can see and treat you at a number of London hospitals, where we can offer highly specialised diagnostic tests and treatment options, including:

· electrocardiogram (ECG) - a quick and painless test where sensors are attached to your chest to record the electrical activity in your heart. You may also be asked to wear a Holter monitor for a day more, to help provide a more accurate reading of your heart over an extended period of time.

· pacemakers - small electrical devices implanted just below the collarbone, which help to regulate your heartbeat if it is too slow. If you have heart failure, they can also improve the overall pumping of your heart.

· cardiac ablation - used to burn away the areas of the heart muscle causing arrhythmias and palpitations, including undesirable tissue and abnormal circuits.

If - at any point - you’re concerned you could be having a heart attack you - or someone with you -  must dial 999 immediately.
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