Burnaby Division of Family Practice Empowering Healthcare Healthy Living Uncategorized

What You Need to Know About Heart Disease

Central Park Lake 1

A young man at the pool asked me, “Why does blood get thicker with age?”

After telling him this wasn’t true, I asked where he got the idea.

“All the older men in the steam room are on blood thinners.”

Those men had an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. Their doctors had prescribed anticoagulant medication to prevent blood clots in the heart from going to the brain and causing strokes.

This was an example of the common confusion about heart disease . . . and the general quality of health education in the community.

Every other organ of your body depends on the heart. It is both a muscular and electrical organ. The heart pumps blood to the lungs, and then it pumps oxygenated blood to all the tissues of the body.

The heart has its own built in pacemaker and its muscle tissue conducts the electrical signal to coordinate the contraction of the four chambers of the heart

Are you at risk for heart disease? Yes, we all are.

Two of the biggest risk factors for heart disease are beyond our control: age and genetics. The good news is that other risk factors are modifiable; these include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and physical inactivity.

And even though having a sibling or parent with heart disease increases your personal risk, the knowledge of your family history can help you and your physician proactively reduce your risk, identify problems early and better manage any chronic condition.

There are four major types of heart disease: (1) coronary artery disease, (2) valvular heart disease, (3) arrhythmia and (4) heart failure.

The coronary arteries are the blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. When one of these arteries are completely blocked, the area of the heart downstream is starved of blood – and dies. The result: a heart attack.

When a coronary artery is partially blocked, the area of heart muscle downstream receives less blood than it needs. The result is ischemia (decreased blood flow) and angina (chest pain). The symptoms include chest pain, fatigue and shortness of breath with activity.

Arrythmias are abnormalities in the rhythm of the heart beat or contractions. With tachycardia, the heart beats too fast; with bradycardia, it beats too slow. We can have premature or early beats and pauses or delayed beats. The symptoms of arrhythmias include chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or fainting spells. However, many patients have no symptoms at all.

Heart failure is a decline in the pumping ability of the heart. The symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath on exertion and when lying flat, waking up at night short of breath, weight gain with fluid retention, and edema or swelling of the feet and legs.

The heart has four valves that allow the one-way flow of blood between the atria and ventricles (chambers of the heart) and through the aortic and pulmonary arteries. Valves can be narrowed (called stenosis) or leaky (called regurgitation).

To learn more about “What You Should Know About Heart Disease”, come to my next free public lecture on behalf of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients series. You’ll learn if you are at increased risk, practical tips to reduce your risks and how to maintain your best health in spite of heart disease.

I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, March 1st at 7 p.m. at the Bonsor Community Centre at 6550 Bonsor Avenue in South Burnaby. Register online with or call Leona at (604) 259-4450.