High Blood Pressure

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

 


6 Weeks to a Younger You: Week 2

August 17, 2011 at 11:45 am , by

Beautiful woman at the beach putting sunscreen on her bodyWelcome to week 2 of our plan! How’d you do with your pedometer and your colorful fruits and veggies last week? I made some progress and I’m feelin’ good. Hope you are too! So what’s on tap for this week?

BIG D AND SUNSCREEN
You need to protect your skin from the sun (to look young and avoid skin cancer). But you need vitamin D for strong bones and maybe even to prevent cancer and heart disease. So how to do you do both? It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with.

My doctor called me a few days ago to tell me that everything on my recent blood test looked good, except one thing: I’m deficient in D. In winter, sure. But in August? Well, I avoid the sun like the plague, thanks to my history of skin cancer. That means wearing sunscreen every day, staying on the shady side of the street—and donning a hat when it’s high noon.

Yes, I take a 1,000 mg D3 supplement almost every day, and I always take it with some nuts or cheese since it’s fat soluble, to improve absorption. But apparently it’s not enough. Supplements just don’t work as well as the sun. My doc suggested I go to 2,000 mg a day—a level that most experts think is safe (although more research needs to be done). And maybe just a few unprotected minutes of sun a day on my arms and legs might be a good idea, too. But just a few!

UNDER PRESSURE?
Aren’t we all? Stress can raise your blood pressure, and so can the junky food you crave when you’re having a bad day. You know that lowering your bp can help your cardiovascular system, but here’s news: healthy blood pressure is good for your memory and brain health! High blood pressure causes no symptoms, so you’ve gotta get checked out. If you can’t see your doc right now, try out one of those drugstore kiosks where you can stick your arm in the cuff. You want to be at 120/80 or lower, and many experts say 115/75 is ideal. If you’re higher, take some deep breaths and take another reading. If it’s still high, make an appointment with your doc.

CALM IT DOWN
A great way to reduce stress (and your blood pressure!) is meditation. It can also improve your memory and boost your immune system. And anyone can learn it. All you have to do is sit quietly and focus on your breathing. The trick is carving out and committing to a few quiet minutes a day. I studied transcendental meditation back in the ’70s (hey, it was good enough for the Beatles!). I remember how  tough it was to learn to sit still and let go of all those busy, busy thoughts—without judging myself every time I felt I wasn’t doing it “right.” I’m going to commit to meditating for 20 minutes every day this week if you will. Cheers to a younger you!

Photo copyright goodluz—Fotolia.com


Guest Blog: Low in Salt, Big on Flavor

February 9, 2011 at 9:45 am , by

For the second installment of our back-to-basics heart health series we tackled hypertension: what it does and how to control it. One of the most shocking things I learned from the piece was the huge role sodium can play in raising your blood pressure and harming your health. Yet every day the average American woman consumes more than double the recommended amount of sodium without even realizing it. Cutting your salt intake can be tough. But one of our favorite bloggers, Jessica Goldman (right, also known as Sodium Girl), proves that low-salt living is doable and even fun. Here she shares her story and, after the jump, some good ideas for tastier, healthier eating—with no added salt.

Beating Bland
By Jessica Goldman

Growing up, my three favorite meals were fried chicken, Szechuan beef and macaroni and cheese. Like most people, I was a verifiable salt fiend. But in 2004, when an aggressive attack of the autoimmune disease lupus caused my kidneys to fail, my eating habits had to change a lot. Quick fixes like canned soups and sauces (often off the charts in sodium content) were out of the question, as were casual dinners out, since so many chefs throw salt around by the handful.

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 imperative.

Losing the thrill of eating, however, was not an option. So I approached my dietary challenge like a game of charades. Think back to the last time you played. Without words, you had to find alternative means of communicating. Without salt, my culinary crutch, I had to find alternative means of creating flavor. Read more


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