Matters of the Heart: Facts You Need to Know about Heart Attacks & Atrial Fibrillation
February 2024 Issue — Pink Prescriptions
Matters of the Heart
Facts You Need to Know about Heart Attacks & Atrial Fibrillation
Matters of the heart are serious. More than any other female medical condition, heart disease is No. 1, and in this case, it is not a good thing. It is the No. 1 cause of stroke, disability, and death in women…and men. Once thought to be only a concern for men, women need to take heart when it comes to their heart health.
Is your body communicating signs or symptoms? Are you paying attention? These Pink Prescriptions’ heart-healthy answers to our questions, provided by local cardiology experts, are the facts. Educate yourself! Do not ignore the signs! Talk to your care provider and ask questions. It’s your health, and when it comes to matters of the heart, it is as serious as a heart attack. Read on to learn more.
By Steve Pearce, MSN, FNP-C | Hilton Head Heart, an affiliate of Hilton Head Regional Physician Network
If I go to the doctor or ER with concerns about my heart, what do I need to ask or request to be done for peace of mind?
When it comes to concerns with your heart, you can try to simplify things by breaking down problems into two categories: blood flow and electricity. Heart attacks in their simplest form are a blood flow problem—an area of the heart is not getting the blood supply it needs. When presenting to the emergency room or physician’s office with heart-related symptoms, it is important to ensure you relay all symptoms you are experiencing to your care provider, as this is essential to providing the best care possible for you.
If you are experiencing symptoms related to a heart attack, you should expect a Troponin test, an electrocardiogram (EKG), and/or a stress test. Atrial fibrillation or AFib is typically an electricity problem that can be caused by reduced blood flow, heart failure, or a non-cardiac cause such as infection, alcohol use, recreational drug use, sleep apnea, or thyroid disease. AFib is an erratic rhythm of the heart and can be diagnosed with an EKG or Holter monitor test.
With both AFib and heart attacks, it is important to identify and treat the underlying cause. Additionally, eating a heart-healthy diet with lean meats and vegetables, avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol intake, and exercising regularly are important for a healthy heart.
Steve Pearce is a Family Nurse Practitioner specializing in cardiac care with Hilton Head Heart seeing patients at their Okatie office as well as Coastal Carolina Hospital. In the nursing field for more than 16 years, he has spent the majority of his time in the field of cardiology. Steve Pearce is accepting new patients—please call Hilton Head Heart (843) 682-2800 to schedule an appointment.
By J. Calvin Sharp, Jr., MD | Hilton Head Heart, and affiliate of Hilton Head Regional Physician NetworkHilton Head Regional Physician Network
What is AFib, and why is it a problem?
Can I live a long life with AFib?
Atrial Fibrillation, most commonly known as AFib, is the most common type of treated heart rhythm disturbance. The normal electrical system of the heart (known as sinus rhythm) is a regular, organized, synchronized pattern that flows from the upper chambers of the heart to the lower chambers of the heart. When AFib occurs, the electrical system, specifically in the top chamber of the heart, becomes erratic resulting in an uncoordinated synchronization of the heart’s rhythm. Symptoms of AFib include an awareness of a rapid/fluttering heartbeat, fatigue, decreased stamina, or chest pain.
The consequences of AFib include destabilization or worsening of underlying heart conditions, such as congestive heart failure or angina, but the primary risk of AFib is stroke. The chaotic and lack of coordinated mechanical contraction of the heart can lead to blood pooling and clot formation in the heart, which can lead to a stroke. In addition to the condition of AFib, a person’s risk for stroke can be determined based on certain factors—congestive heart failure, hypertension, age (those over 65), diabetes, history of stroke, or history of vascular disease.
AFib, in and of itself, is not a life-threatening rhythm disturbance, however, the aggressive management of the symptoms in an effort to combat the consequences of the condition can be difficult to tolerate depending on one’s underlying conditions. The most common treatment options include medications that control the heart rate and/or the heart rhythm, as well as anticoagulants (commonly known as blood thinners) which aid in the prevention of stroke. For those who are not able to tolerate the aggressive medications used to treat the adverse effects of AFib, there are also more advanced procedures such as ablation, or advanced alternatives to anticoagulant medications with procedures such as Watchman or Amulet. While there is never any guarantee, with proper treatment, lifestyle modifications, and monitoring, it is possible to live a long, healthy life with AFib.
J. Calvin Sharp, Jr., MD is a General/Interventional Cardiologist with Hilton Head Heart (locations in Okatie and Hilton Head Island), and he performs interventional procedures at Hilton Head Hospital. He has been practicing in the Lowcountry since 2000. Dr. Sharp is accepting new patients—please call Hilton Head Heart (843) 682-2800 to schedule an appointment.
By Stuart Smalheiser, M.D.
Beaufort Memorial Heart Specialists
So often, when a loved one dies of a heart attack, we look back and realize there were signs. Are there early warning signs or symptoms of a potential heart attack that should not be ignored?
Warning signs to be most concerned about are discomfort in the chest and shortness of breath, especially with exertion. While many other subtle signs may also signal a problem—fatigue, palpitations, edema, even passing out—they are less specific for a heart attack. However, they may signal other problems. Regardless, any time there is a noticeable or abrupt change in how someone feels, they need to be seen and evaluated quickly.
What are the most common symptoms of heart attack?
Are they different for women?
The most common symptoms patients develop are discomfort in the chest that can radiate to their left arm or jaw, lasting for several minutes at a time—waxing and waning—often feeling like a toothache. This can be associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, and shortness of breath. Women, as well as the elderly and certain ethnic groups, may not always experience the traditional symptoms of a heart attack that we have come to expect, but often they do. Less traditional symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, sweating, or lightheadedness. In addition, chest discomfort may feel stronger in the jaw or down the left arm and less severe in the chest region.
Board-certified in general, nuclear and interventional cardiology, Dr. Stuart Smalheiser is a cardiologist with Beaufort Memorial Heart Specialists. He sees patients in Beaufort and Hampton/Varnville.