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Decoding the jargon around heart health

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in Ireland but, despite its looming presence in society, much of the terminology that surrounds heart health can be tough to follow. 

If you want to live a heart healthy life, you have to be as informed as possible. To do this, the technical talk around some common conditions needs decoding. With that in mind, let’s cut through the jargon… 

What’s the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest? 

A heart attack occurs when the blood supply is cut off to a section of the heart, usually as a result of an artery supplying the heart becoming blocked. When the blood supply is cut, it causes damage to the heart muscle. 

A cardiac arrest, meanwhile, is the sudden loss of blood due to the heart’s pump system failing. This means blood is no longer being circulated to the brain and can happen for a variety of reasons. Think of it like this: a heart attack is a blockage problem, whereas a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem.

And this is different from heart failure?

Yes. Heart failure is used to describe a chronic, long-term condition where the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood around the body to meet its workload. It can come in a number of forms like left-sided heart failure, right-sided heart failure and congestive heart failure. 

So what is a heart arrhythmia? 

A heart arrhythmia is when your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, too irregularly or prematurely. Most of these irregularities are actually harmless but they can cause serious problems if they’re highly abnormal. It may also be occasionally referred to as a heart dysrhythmia. 

Is that when I might need a pacemaker?

It really does depend! Normally a pacemaker is used as a treatment if your heart is beating too slowly (known as bradycardia). Your doctor will first check to see if the arrhythmia is being caused by an underlying condition.

So what does a pacemaker do? 

A pacemaker is a small device that is placed under the skin of the chest or the abdomen. It uses small electrical pulses which prompt your heart to beat at a normal rate.

Finally, what’s the best way to look after my heart?

There are a number of things you can do to keep your heart health in check. If you’re a smoker, giving up is a great place to start. Tobacco smoke damages the heart and makes it work harder, so it will thank you for easing that workload. 

Keeping your blood pressure low is also good practice. Have regular check-ups with your GP to ensure your blood pressure is normal. Keep an eye on your alcohol intake, as drinking too much can increase your blood pressure. 

As good as it tastes, salt can also increase your blood pressure so maybe substitute it in your cooking with some herbs and spices.

Having a healthier diet overall, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, is a good way to help your heart. 

It’s also important to get regular exercise. Aiming for a minimum of 30 minutes daily moderate exercise, five days a week, will ensure you’re doing the best you can to keep your heart fighting fit!

Interested in reading more on heart health? Click here for more articles.