heart disease

When Your Heartbeat Goes Haywire

October 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm , by

Everyone has memories of their first love—the moment you first made eye contact with your high-school sweetheart in the hall, or when he finally leaned in for that first kiss. Remember how it made your heart race, and it felt like you might burst from excitement?

Of course you do. But you probably haven’t given much thought to how your heartbeat actually works, or how important your heart’s powerful electrical system is to the rest of your health. After all, you don’t have to ask your heart to beat. It just does it.

Here’s how it works: Your pulse starts in a node in the right atrium of your heart, causing it to contract. Then, through a pathway of fibers that acts like a wire, the pulse spreads to the bottom chambers of your heart, which prompts the left ventricle to contract and send oxygen-rich blood throughout your body, explains cardiologist Hugh Calkins, M.D., president of the Heart Rhythm Society.

It’s normal for your heartbeat to change during exercise, as you sleep or in the presence of a special someone, of course. But there are times when a change in your heartbeat can mean something’s wrong. Last week we sat down with Dr. Calkins to get the scoop on some heart-rhythm problems you should know about.

Falling For It
If you’ve ever passed out before, you know how scary it can be. Fainting happens when your heartbeat slows down too much, making it hard for blood to reach your brain. It can be triggered by intense emotions or fear (that’s why seeing blood can make you pass out), but dehydration or getting too hot can also do it. Women are much more prone to fainting than men, and it tends to run in families. While most of the time passing out is harmless, it’s important to talk to your doctor about it because it can be a sign of other serious heart troubles, says Dr. Calkins. Plus, your doctor can give you strategies to recognize when an episode is coming on so you can try to prevent it.

All Revved Up
A super-fast heartbeat that comes on suddenly (when you’re not in a Zumba class or something) can be a heart-rhythm problem called paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia or PSVT. There are different types of PSVT, but for most people it happens because they have an extra pathway for electricity to travel between the two nodes, which allows the pulse to circle back and make the heart beat faster than normal. “It’s basically a short-circuit,” says Dr. Calkins. Almost two-thirds of people with PSVT are women, and it’s often misdiagnosed as an anxiety attack at first. Sometimes exercise or bending over triggers it, but just as often your heart starts racing for no reason at all. Unless you have another heart condition, you may not need treatment, but you should see your doctor or a cardiologist for a full checkup.

Getting Mixed Signals
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart-rhythm disorder, and one of the most serious because it increases your risk for stroke. It’s caused by faulty signaling in the nodes in your heart, which leads to an irregular and rapid heartbeat. This makes the upper chambers of your heart quiver rapidly, which can make you feel light-headed or cause shortness of breath. Risk factors include a family history of A-fib, obesity and high blood pressure. While A-fib is more common in men, your risk increases as you age. Tell your doctor about any weird changes in your heartbeat. Symptoms can come and go, but A-fib is much easier to treat with medication if you catch it early.

Image copyright Roobcio, Shutterstock


Get Off Your Butt

September 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm , by

If you sit all day long, you’re putting your health at risk—even if you exercise later, according to a growing pile of studies.

I’ll be the first to admit that when this started popping up again and again in the news recently, I ignored it every time. What am I supposed to do? Quit my job? I have to be at my desk! That’s why it was so refreshing to meet Anup Kanodia, M.D., assistant professor of Clinical Family Medicine at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. He gave me a much-needed crash course in why sitting is so bad and what you can do about it right now. (That’s me, right, after Dr. Kanodia revamped my cube so I could see how it felt to work standing up.)

LHJ: What goes wrong when we sit?

AK: The problem is that without even realizing it, we’re sitting way more than we should. Our bodies are built to sit around three hours a day. The average person now sits eight, maybe even 12 hours a day. There are a few reasons this is bad for you.

First, you’re burning fewer calories. When you sit you burn 100 calories an hour. When you stand, you burn on average 150 calories an hour simply because the muscles in your legs and core have to work to keep you upright. So when you’re sitting all the time, managing your weight is harder, especially if you have trouble finding time to exercise. But the studies also show that independent of exercise, sitting is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. So in other words, a half hour or an hour of exercise at the end of the day doesn’t make up for the damage done earlier in the day.

LHJ: Yikes! A lot of us spend so much of the workday with our butts in a chair. Where does standing start to makes a difference?

AK: It sounds too good to be true, but really every second of standing can make a difference. If you can get out of your chair every half an hour for a minute, you can burn 43 percent more energy throughout your day. And the reason this is so important is because of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which among other things, is responsible for converting your “bad” LDL cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol. After one hour of sitting, the production of this enzyme goes down 95 percent. But just getting out of your chair and moving a bit restarts it.

LHJ: Wow, that actually sounds doable.

AK: Yes, it adds up to only about 15 minutes a day. But it’s not the time that matters, it’s kick-starting that enzyme throughout the day. You can burn off a Starbucks latte, just by standing for 30 minutes. Now think of what you could do by standing for an hour or more a day!

Easy Ways To Get Off Your Butt

  • In the mornings, park in the far lot to sneak in more walking.
  • Set the timer on your phone to remind you to get up every half hour.
  • Stand during every phone call.
  • Drink more water. You’ll have to get up to pee eventually, right?
  • Suggest standing or walking meetings.
  • Get up while you read the paper or a long report.



Women Still Don’t Know About Heart Disease

February 10, 2010 at 1:30 pm , by


Last week, Julie and I went to a Go Red for Women dinner, part of the American Heart Association’s campaign to increase knowledge for women’s heart disease. Besides catching up with AHA president, the wonderful Clyde Yancy, M.D., we got to hear some shocking heart stats.

The AHA revealed the findings from its newest study about women’s awareness of cardiovascular disease (CVD), headed by Lori Mosca, M.D., Ph.D., the lively, marathon-running professor of medicine and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

A quick summary:

1. Awareness that CVD is the leading cause of death among women has almost doubled since 1997. Still, only 54 percent of women know that CVD is the leading cause of death among women (vs. 30 percent in 1997).

2. Only about half of women know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Plus, only half of women would call 911 if they thought they were having one.

3. More than half of women rely on unproven therapies to prevent CVD, including taking a multivitamin (69 percent), antioxidants (70 percent) and aromatherapy (29 percent).

That’s us with Dr. Yancy –>