Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources

Heart Health FAQs

Heart Health FAQs




I keep having heart palpitations/missed beats, what should I do?


Palpitations are the feeling or sensation of an irregular or fast heart beat.  They have many different causes ranging from stress to an underlying medical condition.  Most palpitations are not dangerous and can be managed through lifestyle changes such as limiting caffeine, nicotine or illegal drugs.  Some are caused by an underlying medical condition such as a thyroid disorder. Stress and anxiety  can also cause palpitations.  See your doctor if you are having palpitations and he/she can help to determine the causes.   This usually involves having an EKG done, wearing a Holter monitor or an event monitor and some blood tests.  Once a cause is established you and your physician can decide what treatment is appropriate. 



How do I know if I have high blood pressure and how do I treat it?


Blood pressure is the measurement of how much pressure is present in the arteries when the heart is beating and when the heart is at rest, the systolic and diastolic pressure.  This measurement is expressed as a fraction, with the systolic number on top and the diastolic on the bottom.  A blood pressure of 140/90 or greater is considered high.  Hypertension is often times referred to as the “silent killer” because it has no distinct symptoms and it directly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.  Several risk factors can increase your chances of having hypertension.   These risk factors include obesity, drinking alcohol, stress, high sodium diet, and a sedentary lifestyle.  Hypertension can also be hereditary, is more common in African Americans, and the risk increases with age. 

There are several ways to treat hypertension.  The American Heart association recommends following a low fat, low sodium, low cholesterol diet as well as following an exercise regimen.  Limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking have also been shown to be effective in reducing blood pressure.  When lifestyle changes are not effective, doctors may prescribe blood pressure medications.  It is important to take these medications as prescribed and to monitor blood pressure closely.

Effectively managing hypertension can significantly reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. 



What are the warning signs of a heart attack?  How do I know if my chest pain is caused by a heart attack or something else?


Heart attacks, or myocardial infarctions, occur when blood flow to the heart is cut off severely or completely by clogged arteries or blood clots.  This causes a loss of oxygen to the heart and results in muscle damage or death.  The warning signs of a heart attack can be sudden and intense or can start slowly and progress. These warning signs include:

  • Chest discomfort- this can be a feeling of pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
  • Pain in jaw, neck, back, arms, or stomach
  • Shortness of Breath
  •  “Cold sweats”
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness 

It is important to act immediately if you think you might be experiencing a heart attack. There is no way for a person to determine if their chest pain is related to their heart or not.  The best action would be to call 911 for transport to the hospital.   By calling 911, treatment can begin as soon as possible - in route to the hospital, if indeed a heart attack is suspected. 

The American Heart Association established three simple guidelines (The ABC’s)  for leading a heart healthy lifestyle:

  • Avoid tobacco
  • Be more  active
  • Choose good nutrition

Following these simple guidelines can significantly reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke. 



I had my cholesterol checked, but what do these numbers mean?


Cholesterol is an important and necessary substance found in the body.   It is important to know your cholesterol levels because too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease and stroke.  The American Heart Association recommends that adults 20 years of age and older have their cholesterol checked at least every 5 years.  Cholesterol testing is done by blood work (usually fasting- meaning nothing to eat or drink 9-12 hours prior to the blood work being done) .  The results of your cholesterol testing will include a total cholesterol level, an LDL (bad cholesterol) level, an HDL (good cholesterol level) and a triglycerides level.  Your doctor will interpret your test results and make recommendations to you based on these results as well as any other risk factors that you may have for heart disease and stroke. 


The “normal” ranges for cholesterol testing are as follows:

  • Total cholesterol: A total cholesterol of less than 200mg/dl is optimal.
  • HDL: For HDL, the higher the level the better. The average male has a HDL level of 40-50mg/dl, the average female level is 50-60mg/dl.  An HDL level of greater than 60mg/dl is optimal.  An HDL level of less than 40mg/dl in men and less than 50mg/dl in women can increase the risk of heart disease. 
  • LDL: For LDL, the lower the better.  An LDL level of less than 100mg/dl is optimal.
  • Triglycerides: A triglyceride level of less than 150mg/dl is optimal. 

Your cholesterol can be managed through life style changes such as eating a heart healthy diet, daily exercise and quitting smoking.  If lifestyle changes are not effective, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol medication.  It is important to take this medication as prescribed and to have your cholesterol checked regularly.


Managing your cholesterol through lifestyle changes and medication if necessary can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. 



My doctor wants me to have a stress test.  What is this and how is it done?



A stress test is also sometimes known as a treadmill test.  Your heart and the blood vessels leading to the heart will be evaluated during exercise, usually on a treadmill.  This test can show if a patient has heart disease- specifically blockages in their coronary arteries.  For the test, you are hooked up to an EKG and blood pressure monitor.  Baseline values are established and then you begin walking on the treadmill.  Every 3 minutes the level of exercise is increased and your heart rate, blood pressure and EKG are monitored.  Generally, the test is done until you can no longer keep up with the exercise or until cardiac symptoms arise.  In patients with known heart disease, the test is sometimes done up to a pre-determined level and results are evaluated by MD.  When test is complete, patients are monitored until all symptoms that may have arisen resolve and heart rate, blood pressure and EKG are back to normal.  Sometimes a radioactive dye is used during the test.  This is called a nuclear stress test.  During a nuclear stress test, dye is injected into the patient during the test and “pictures” are taken with a special camera.  This dye collects in areas where there is good blood flow.  By reviewing these pictures, doctors can actually see if there is a blockage in the arteries. 

Doctors use stress tests to diagnose heart disease, determine a safe level of exercise in patients with known heart disease, evaluate the effectiveness of a procedure done to improve cardiac function, and finally to predict the possibility of hear t attack.  Your doctor will review your results with you and make recommendations as needed.

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