Dr. Marvin Lipman and the editors of Consumer Reports on Health have come out with a useful little book called The Best of Health: 275 Questions You’ve Always Wanted To Ask Your Doctor.
Let’s take a look at their Q&A page about cardiovascular disorders.
Q: Are my heart palpitations a sign of heart disease?
A: “Palpitations” is a non-medical term for any heart rhythm that feels abnormal. This can include extra beats, dropped beats, forceful beats, rapid beats, or irregular beats. For proper diagnosis, the abnormality must first be captured on an EKG test or on a 24-hour heartbeat recording called a Holter monitor. Heart palpitations can be caused by:
- emotional stress
- an overactive thyroid
- certain medications
- diseases of the coronary arteries, heart muscle, or heart valves
Sometimes there is no detectable cause. First, try eliminating a few things on your own: caffeine (coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, soda), nasal decongestants, appetite suppressants – and see if that makes a difference.
Q: Is cardiac catheter ablation an effective treatment for atrial fibrillation?
A: In many cases, yes. Atrial fibrillation is a rapid, irregular heartbeat caused by abnormal tissue in the heart muscle. The disorder can cause light-headedness and fainting, and it increases the risk of heart failure and stroke. When medication fails to restore normal rhythms and there’s no serious heart disease, a minimally invasive procedure called cardiac catheter ablation can be done. During this procedure, a laser or radio-wave device is snaked through a vein up to the heart, where it destroys the abnormal tissue. This restores normal heartbeat in 70-90% of patients, although up to one-third may require additional procedures, and up to one-fourth may still need drugs. Moreover, the longterm safety and effectiveness of cardiac ablation are unknown.
Q: I have been diagnosed with right bundle branch block. Is this serious?
A: Not necessarily. The bundle branches are fibres within the heart muscle that transmit nerve impulses, causing the right and left ventricles to contract and pump blood into the arteries. Occasionally, transmission in one of the bundles becomes blocked, probably due to a clot in a tiny blood vessel feeding the bundle. The affected ventricle then contracts later than the other ventricle – this shows up as a characteristic pattern on an EKG test. There are usually no symptoms and no treatment. A blocked bundle branch, particularly on the left side of the heart, does slightly increase the risk of subsequent heart attack, especially for those with other risk factors for heart disease – like high LDL (bad) cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, or family history of heart disease at a young age. Learn more about bundle branch block from this Mayo Clinic site.
Q: I sometimes experience chest discomfort while resting but never while exercising. Could that discomfort be angina?
A: It’s unlikely. Angina (usually pronounced anj – EYE – nah in Canada or AN-gin-ah in the U.S.) is described as any type of discomfort between neck and navel that is brought on by exertion and relieved by rest. But an uncommon form of coronary disease called Prinzmetal’s Variant Angina that can cause angina when you’re resting or asleep is due to a spasm in the artery, not a blockage – especially in women. Possible other causes may include heartburn, spasms of the esophagus, hiatus hernia or gallbladder disease.
♥ ♥ ♥ Find out more about the Consumer Reports on Health book called The Best of Health. See also: Four Questions About Your Blood Pressure You’ve Always Wanted to Ask
Note: This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.