Matters of the Heart
Get answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about your most important muscle.
Q: “If I have high blood pressure, why can’t I feel it?”
A: High blood pressure is called a “silent” killer because the only way to detect it is to take a reading. Some people with hypertension are prone to headaches and/or dizziness, but those are not considered common warning signs. And since high blood pressure can lead to heart attack and stroke, it’s important to know your numbers and work with your healthcare provider to keep them in a healthy range.
Q: “I feel like I’m often anxious. Is that bad for my heart?”
A: When you’re on edge, your blood pressure rises, your stress hormones (like adrenaline, which may cause palpitations) are activated, and you’re more likely to smoke or load up on high-fat comfort foods like mac ’n’ cheese or candy bars. All of these things can take a toll on heart health.
That said, it’s a good idea to tame the tension in your life. Effective coping techniques include exercise (which releases feel-good brain chemicals and distracts you from worries) and deep breathing (which triggers the body’s relaxation response). Even listening to music can reduce anxiety and have a beneficial effect on blood pressure and heart rate in people with coronary heart disease.
Q: “My doctor told me I need a stress test. Should I be worried?”
A: Not at all. During the test, you’ll be asked to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike for 8 to 12 minutes while hooked up to an electrocardiogram (EKG). The EKG will monitor how your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure respond to exertion. Your healthcare provider will use the results to help determine if you have heart disease.
Q: “Can heart disease be reversed?”
A: Getting regular, moderate exercise (like walking), eating a low-fat diet, reducing stress and quitting smoking can help reverse heart disease in eight out of 10 patients, according to a study in The Lancet.