Protect my heart
Dr Morton's – the medical helpline is a telephone and web-based business providing medical advice to customers.
Dr Morton's
the medical helpline©

Protect my heart and circulation

Protect my heart

The heart is a muscular pump which requires a good blood supply to work and has an electrical control system

  • electrical problems – palpitations and arrhythmias
  • blood supply problems – angina and heart attacks
  • pump problems – breathlessness and heart failure

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Heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems

Most problems of blood vessels are inter-related and largely either a clogging up of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) or a bursting of weakened blood vessels. Both lead to a lack of oxygen to the organs they supply, leading to a heart attack or stroke, or damage to a limb as with claudication, or eventually gangrene.

An electrical fault in the heart’s control mechanism can make it pump inefficiently, also leading to poor oxygen supply to the body and the heart itself.

Finally the muscle in the heart can become flabby, leading to heart failure.


Symptoms of heart trouble

  • central chest pain, especially on exertion
  • palpitations, or racing heart
  • breathlessness on exertion
  • breathlessness when lying down
  • dizziness and blackouts
  • ankle swelling which persists all day

Symptoms of a stroke

  • numbness of the face
  • weakness of a limb
  • difficulty with words
  • loss of consciousness
  • falling about and loss of balance

Symptoms of poor circulation

  • pain in legs when walking (claudication)
  • discolouration of toes

Other information

What is angina?

Angina is the most common symptom of cardiac disease. The term means 'chest pain' but is used to refer to cardiac pain, typically resulting from inadequate oxygen supply due to narrowed or blocked arteries. Chest pain left side; chest pain right side…..it doesn’t matter. All chest pain must be taken seriously. Angina is often described as an ache or tightness in the central chest, which can spread to the left arm or jaw.

What is a myocardial infarction (MI)?

A myocardial infarction is the medical term for a heart attack which occurs when an artery supplying the heart is completely blocked. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of adult death in the UK and the world. One in 6 men (only 1 in 10 women) will get it at some time in their life, the risk increasing with age. When the blood flow in an artery supplying the heart muscle is restricted, this produces ischaemic pain called angina or an actual heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI or acute coronary syndrome) when the blood flow in an artery to the heart muscle is blocked so the muscle actually dies through lack of oxygen and a build-up of lactic acid.

Arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis

Cholesterol and triglyceride fat builds up with white blood cells in the walls of blood vessels, forming plaques of atherosclerosis. This is the leading cause of heart disease. Risk factors for this include diabetes, smoking, obesity, uncontrolled high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, amongst others.

Narrowed arteries, due to the plaques, reduce oxygen delivery to the heart muscle, and can cause angina. Cracking of an atherosclerotic plaque can cause a blood clot to form over it, blocking the artery and causing a heart attack. This in turn will damage the heart muscle, and can cause heart failure. Atherosclerosis of other blood vessels causes poor blood supply to the legs or brain, or whatever organ the artery concerned is supplying, leading to stroke, kidney failure, claudication which is pain in the legs when walking and even gangrene of the feet.

Other causes of chest pain

Other conditions can give chest pain symptoms such as

  • acid reflux or heart burn
  • costochondritis - an inflamed rib joint
  • a pulled muscle in the chest or ribcage
  • pericarditis – inflamed lining of the heart
Palpitations or arrhythmias

Electrical disturbance in the heart results in an abnormal rhythm of the heart muscle pump, such as in atrial fibrillation, which is fast and completely irregular or heart block which is very slow. These electrical problems get commoner with age. When the rhythm of the heart is irregular it is a less efficient pump, and may result in heart failure. The heart may feel as if it is fluttering.

Arrhythmias can occur as a result of previous damage to the heart from heart attacks, but can also occur out of the blue in people who have no identifiable heart disease, apart from the electrical circuit problem itself.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

Hypertension (high blood pressure), does not typically cause any symptoms, but does increase the risk of stroke and heart attack, so is screened for and treated when found. There may be a family history of hypertension. It is usually due to an increase in the resistance of the blood vessels to blood passing through, which is often as a result of atherosclerosis making the vessels more rigid.

Hypertension during pregnancy may be part of a serious pregnancy complication called pre-eclampsia.

When you should contact a doctor

Ring 999 or 112 if you have unexplained chest pain that lasts more than 15-20 minutes, particularly if this is accompanied by other symptoms such as breathlessness, nausea, sweating or pain that spreads to your arm.

If you have recurring chest pain during exercise which is relieved by rest, this might be angina and may need further investigation. You should also contact a doctor in this case.

If you have recurring symptoms of palpitations, you should also seek medical attention, especially if associated with dizziness or loss of consciousness.

Available treatments

  • exercise is the most powerful drug available to prevent heart disease and freely available!
  • weight loss and a healthy low salt diet
  • stop smoking and keep alcohol consumption to moderate levels
  • bring down high blood pressure and high cholesterol/triglycerides, with diet and medication, such as statins
  • control diabetes and any kidney disease as well is possible
  • aspirin and clopidogrel 'thin the blood' and reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the arteries to the heart
  • betablockers and ACE inhibitor medications can treat high blood pressure and help prevent further heart damage after an initial heart attack

Related topics

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