Heart health: Understanding your risks


Sunday, February 25, 2018

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THE Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) is imploring Jamaicans to be vigilant about their heart health and aware of the indicators that may point to the development or existence of cardiac conditions.

Speaking with JIS News, cardiologist at the HFJ, Dr Rohan Wilks, says it is important that individuals know their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels as these numbers are critical in determining their risk for heart disease.

“For the blood pressure, there are two numbers which come into play, the systolic (upper number), which should be less than 120 and the diastolic (lower number) which should be less than 80. The number is, therefore, read as 118 over 75, for example,” he explains.

As it relates to cholesterol readings, it must be noted that there is bad and good cholesterol, and normal readings should be 3.5 for low-density lipoprotein (LDL/bad cholesterol) and the good cholesterol or HDL number should be between 35 to 65 for men and 35 to 80 for women

Meanwhile, blood sugar readings are measured by weight in milligrammes per decilitre (mg/dL) or in millimoles per litre (mmol/L).

In a person without diabetes, blood sugar should be between 70 and 100 mg/dL or 3.8 and 5.5 mmol/L. It is important to note that after a meal, blood sugar can rise up to 120mg/dL or 6.7mmol/L.

Dr Wilks says that there are other patterns that are looked at as it relates to patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, such as waking blood sugar, and before and after meal readings.

In addition to their numbers, Dr Wilks is advising individuals who are displaying symptoms such as chest pains, shortness of breath, heart racing or sudden loss of consciousness to consult their physician.

“These symptoms do not necessarily guarantee the presence of a heart condition, but give sufficient cause to seek advice. The general practitioner is able to interview the patient, make necessary checks and ascertain whether any further assessments need to be done,” he points out.

Individuals who are predisposed to heart conditions because of family history or chronic conditions, including hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes, should pay special attention to their heart health.

Dr Wilks says a patient may be required to do a screening test called an electrocardiogram (ECG) in order to establish whether there is a heart condition.

He explains that the test will provide a reading of the electrical activity or rhythm of the heart, which is displayed on a moving strip of paper or a line on a screen.

The physician is able to assess the peaks and dips recorded on the screen to determine whether the rhythm of the heart is normal.

“The patient is notified of the findings from the ECG and, if necessary, additional probes may be requested by the physician. This may come in the form of an echocardiogram, which is essentially an ultrasound of the chest and shows detailed images of the heart's structure and function,” Dr Wilks says.

Holter monitoring is another exploratory testing option available for patients. The monitor is a portable device which is worn by the individual for 24 to 72 hours and is used to detect heart rhythm irregularities that are not discovered during a regular ECG exam.

Stress testing, cardiac catheterisation, cardiac computerised tomography (CT) scan or cardiac magnetic resonance imagings (MRI) are other available options.

Cardiac catheterisation is the most intrusive of these tests and involves the insertion of a narrow catheter into a vein or artery which is guided toward the heart.

A dye is subsequently injected and observed on an X-ray screen to monitor the blood flow to the heart and check for any abnormalities.

The MRI is an imaging test which provides pictures to help the physician evaluate the patient's heart.




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