heart health

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


Try This Heart Healthy Recipe (You Won’t Miss The Salt!)

February 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm , by

We’ve been blogging and tweeting nonstop this month to get the message across: Way too many women are dying of heart disease. One of the things you can do to keep your heart healthy is cut back on salt to prevent high blood pressure. That’s why we tapped our friend Jessica Goldman Foung, also known as Sodium Girl, to share some delicious recipes from her new book Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook.

By Jessica Goldman Foung

Why not do something for your heart this Valentine’s Day? Not just your figurative heart—the one that beats for your special someone—but your actual heart that beats to keep you going. Back in 2004, when an aggressive attack of the autoimmune disease lupus caused my kidneys to fail, my eating habits had to change a lot. When you have excess sodium in your diet (and trust me, if you’re not paying attention, you probably do), the extra salt spills into your bloodstream, which makes you retain fluid and raises your blood pressure. Your kidneys normally regulate your sodium level, so for me, losing the salt was a must.

It took a life-threatening event to get me to ditch salt, so I know it’s hard. But what I learned is that nearly everyone can—and should—cut back. The average American consumes almost 3,500 mg of sodium every day, which is double the recommended amount.

Without salt, I became more daring and playful in the kitchen. I started eating vegetables that used to scare me like bok choy, leeks and Brussels sprouts, and I experimented with cuisines I’d never tried, including Moroccan, Indian and Korean. I was determined to make over salty meals that I’d always loved, which led to discovering many replacements for high-sodium ingredients, like soy sauce. Yes, even soy sauce! So I know anyone can do it.

I had to figure it all out on my own, so I’m happy to share a recipe to get you started. Read more for one of my favorite low-so recipes: Tamarind “Teriyaki” Skewers (pictured above). Read more

Martina McBride Wants You…To Be Heart Healthy!

July 16, 2010 at 7:46 pm , by

Picture 3

Award-winning country singer Martina McBride is the new face of Cheerios’ “Love Your Heart” campaign, which encourages women to eat heart-healthy meals and live their lives passionately, words we live by at LHJ.

And they’re offering a sweet deal: Enter the “Do What You Love” contest by sending your photo and a short essay on the activity you love to do most, and you could win two roundtrip tickets to Nashville, a three-day, two-night stay at a luxury hotel, and an exclusive chance to hang out with Martina McBride at her recording studio, plus more.

Jump on it! The contest ends on July 23rd!!

I had a chance to chat with Martina about life on the road and keeping her ticker healthy:

LHJ: Why is the message to stay heart-healthy so important to you?

Martina: As we know, heart disease is the number one killer of women in America, so I think the topic should be important for everyone. But I want to set a good example for my three daughters, who are ages 15, 12 and 5. I want to be around a long time to see them grow and do things together as a family.

LHJ: How do you stay on top of your health while you’re on the road?

Martina: Well I try to eat organic whenever possible and have plenty of healthy options on hand. On the road, there’s usually a salad bar and some kind of soup, fish and lean beef or chicken, and a nice selection of healthy side dishes. I love that our catering company is so health conscious. That helps too.

LHJ: What do the girls like eating at home?

Martina: They actually like healthy food. Really, they do! But I’m not restrictive with what they eat. I mean, they’re kids. Sometimes they complain to me and say, “There’s nothing to eat in this house.” And I’ll say, “Yes, there is. There’s a bowl of apples and there’s cheese and crackers.”

LHJ: How do you stay so fit?

Martina: Mostly, it’s the way I eat. That’s the biggest thing. I don’t really like to workout either. It takes a lot to get me to set aside time to do it, but I try. I might workout three times a week, 30 minutes a day. A little cardio, a little weight training. We ride bikes on the road, so we’re getting in good exercise.

LHJ: I know that Nashville is still healing from the floods. Have you or anyone in your family been effected by it?

Martina: No, we were lucky, but I was very excited to be a part of some of the benefit concerts they’ve had for flood relief. One concert, called Nashville Rising, raised over $2.5 million. It was just a great evening of music with other country artists.

LHJ: What’s next for you?

Martina: I’m starting to work on a new album, looking for new material and writing a lot — actually writing more for this album than any other I’ve done, so it’s an exciting time.

Are Long Hours At Work Killing You? Maybe.

May 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm , by

work stressThe upside to working overtime: time and a half (if you’re lucky) and a few nice words from your boss (also if you’re lucky).

The downside (besides having to stay at work): increased risk for coronary heart disease.

People who work more than 10 hours a day are at a 60 percent greater risk for heart attack, angina and other heart-related conditions, compared with those who log in seven-hour days, according to a  new study in the European Heart Journal. One explanation for this association: type-A personalities—folks who tend to be anxious, competitive and tense—are the ones who are more likely to spend the extra hours behind the desk.

The study looked at over 4,000 men and 1,700 women, with an average follow-up of 11 years. While men were more likely to report working overtime, we’d be willing to speculate that the women felt the stress more acutely. Yes, men are pitching in, but women still tend to have more responsibility in the home. So the next time you’re thinking of spending a late night at the office, ask yourself if you really need to stay or if you can finish the task in the morning—your heart might thank you for it.

Photo courtesy: stuartpilbrow

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