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Frequently asked questions

Question: Are there any symptoms of high cholesterol?  

Answer: The problem with high cholesterol is that it does not present itself with symptoms and is usually picked up incidentally at screening or after a medical event as an associated cause.

Question: My boyfriend was recently told he has a heart murmur. What does this mean, and does it raise his risk of having a heart attack?

Answer: A heart murmur (an unusual sound) is picked up when a doctor listens to your heart. A murmur does not always mean that there is a problem with your heart as people with normal hearts may also have murmurs. A large number of murmurs are entirely innocent. If your boyfriend is concerned he should discuss this with his doctor who may suggest that he have further tests to see how well his heart is working. The most common test is an echocardiogram which uses sounds waves to look at the structure of your heart. A heart murmur is not associated with a heart attack; this is caused by blockages in the small vessels called coronary arteries which provide the blood supply to the heart muscle.

Question: My friend recently experienced symptoms of angina; what are the main symptoms to look out for and what are the health risks associated with angina?

Answer: Angina often feels like a heaviness or tightness in your chest, but this may spread to your arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach as well. Some people describe the feeling of severe tightness, while others say it’s more of a dull ache. Symptoms of experiencing shortness of breath have been reported too. Angina is often brought on by physical activity, an emotional upset, cold weather or after a meal. Symptoms usually subside after a few minutes. If your symptom pattern changes, you should speak to your doctor immediately. There is medication available, too, that can help control your symptoms, whereas some people require treatments such as angioplasty or heart bypass surgery. Living a healthy lifestyle is a very important part of your treatment, too. Many people with angina have a good quality of life and continue with their normal daily activities. Your doctor or nurse will be able to advise you on your daily activity and any lifestyle changes you may need to make.

Question: I have started running again after a couple of years' break; 15 minutes per run, four times a week. However, I'm slightly concerned that bursts of exertion could be bad for my heart - can you advise?

Answer: All exercise is good for you. Was the reason for your break in running related to a cardiac event? Any exercise should start with a warm up and warm down; you will not cause any cardiac problems by bursts of exertion. During vigorous exercise your heart rate will increase rapidly because of the necessity for more oxygen and nutrients to get to you muscle cells. So the harder you run, the greater the demand for gas exchange in the muscle cells. Your heart will pump faster to provide gas exchange, but will slow accordingly as soon as you slowdown. If you are concerned about it, check your resting heart pulse and your pulse at high activity. If you check the web there are charts that will give you an idea what your heart rate should be pre and during exercise for your age.

Question: My resting pulse rate is about 140 beats per min. This has only ever been checked by doctors in hospital so not sure if due to nerves. I had an ECG and they said the flow was normal. Should I be worried?

Answer: Sometimes there is something called the "white coat syndrome" which can cause your heart rate and in fact your blood pressure to rise due to a subconscious response to the test. Your ECG was found to be normal, which is good. The "normal" textbook pulse rate is around 72 beats per minute (BPM), so yours is a little high. I don’t know if you have any other health issues, but without alarming you that’s quite fast at 140 BPM. If you are otherwise in good health, I would make a routine appointment to see your GP to discuss and check.

Question: I am confused about heart disease and the benefits of aspirin. I read in the newspaper that an aspirin a day may help prevent stroke. Is that true?

Answer: There are lots of different cells in our circulating blood, each with a different function. Platelets help with clotting when you sustain any form of cut or graze and respond by forming a clot. Aspirin is a mild anti-platelet, which means it inhibits their function. Many people take aspirin every day, especially after they have had a medical event such as a heart attack or a stroke, as a mild preventative against further clot formation. Other blood thinning drugs are used. Taking an aspirin a day can slightly reduce a clot formation, but strokes do have other causes, too, not just blood clots.

Question: Some of my family members have had heart problems, but they were also smokers and heavy drinkers. Am I still at risk of getting heart problems in the future (I don’t smoke and rarely drink)?

Answer: Smoking and heavy drinking are huge factors in disease, especially the blood vessels, so the fact that you don’t smoke and rarely drink is good. Heart disease in the UK affects approximately one in six people; the best thing you can do to reduce your risk is eat a really good, balanced diet, take plenty of exercise and keep within a healthy BMI. Treat your body well and it will look after you.

Question: I often get this thing where my heart goes funny for maybe ten to twenty seconds - it almost feels as if it's doing a double beat when this happens. It's a weird sensation, although it causes no discomfort. But was wondering if it's normal for the heart to behave this way?

Answer: It sounds like extra beats or ectopics. In most cases these are innocent but it would be worth having these recorded on an ECG. This can be arranged via the GP or local hospital. In some cases, a heart rhythm monitor can be attached for 24 hours or longer to record these sensations.


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