I work in a hospital as an executive assistant to a senior, well known cardiologist. As such, people tend to seek my advice or guidance when in distress and are unable to get in touch with the doctor.
For instance, last evening I received a call from a young lady, complaining of mild aches and pains in the chest. She was anticipating the onset of a heart attack or something as major as that. Obviously, she was fearful of the consequences. I do not blame her since it’s difficult to distinguish between pains occurring due to a heart ailment and pain generating from gastritis. In her case, it would most probably be the latter, as someone as young as she is least probable of getting a heart attack. Many people like her ask me about the symptoms of heart disease. While I would immediately recommend that they go to a hospital or consult their doctor, having worked closely with patients and doctors over a number of years, I do give them a little bit of advice from my experience and knowledge about the symptoms and related tests.
These are some of the points that I share with them.
The most prominent feature of heart disease is the production of pain, heaviness or discomfort in the center of the chest. The pain or heaviness is produced by physical exertion like walking, climbing stairs and carrying heavy loads. The pain or the heaviness sometimes spreads into the jaw or down the left arm or both the arms and is usually eased by resting.
If someone is symptomatic, they can seek the confirmation of the presence of heart disease with the following tests.
Electrocardiogram (ECG): An ECG may confirm the presence of heart disease. It is usually abnormal when recorded during an episode of chest pain. A normal ECG does not mean that heart disease is absent.
Echocardiogram: May be helpful in detecting heart disease. Like the ECG, a normal echocardiogram does exclude the presence of heart disease.
Treadmill stress test: Reliable in establishing heart disease. But the test is only 70% accurate. This means that 30% of patients may get an incorrect report.
Thallium scan: A useful test, but like the treadmill stress test, accuracy is only 70%. This test is expensive.
Coronary angiography: This is the most powerful and reliable tool in identifying heart disease. This test accurately establishes the presence of the disease and reveals the severity of the disease and determines the treatment required.
In the stressful environments of today and the unhealthy lifestyles that many tend to follow, a yearly check up after the age of 35 is a good idea. I always ask my friends, and virtually make them go, for some basic non-invasive tests like ECG and blood tests for cholesterol and diabetes. It’s always wise to be informed and aware of our health indices, for you never know!