Heart attack symptoms: The sign in your heart rate – what you need to look out for

A heart attack is a sudden and shocking event that requires an immediate response to stave off the risk of permanent damage being inflicted on the heart muscle. It happens when the blood supply is restricted, usually by a build-up of cholesterol, a fatty substance found in your blood. Despite requiring immediate medical attention, many people delay seeking treatment for a heart attack.

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One reason for this delay is that people shrug off their symptoms as a sign of a less serious condition.

Another factor, linked to the first one, is ignorance of the range of symptoms and what they reveal about your heart health.

Most people readily associate heart attacks with a tightening pain or pressure in the test.

There are an array of symptoms to bear in mind, however.

According to Dr Roby Rakhit, Consultant Cardiologist at The Wellington Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, it also important to understand the link between heart rate and heart attack risk.

What is heart rate?

“Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. The average resting heart rate for an adult is between 60 and 100 beats per minute (bpm) – however, some trained athletes and sport professionals can have a heart rate as low as 40 bpm,” he explained.

According to Dr Rakhit, a dramatic change in heart rate – either an increase or decrease – can be a sign of heart attack.

Most commonly, a heart attack will cause an increase in heart rate, and this is because a higher heart rate is the heart’s response to tissue injury and reduced function, he said.

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“However, although uncommon, sometimes a heart attack can cause a dangerous decrease in heart rate due to problems with the heart’s electrical system,” noted Dr Rakhit.

He continued: “In these cases, it can lead to a drop in blood pressure and consequently, a blackout.”

How heart attacks influence heart rate

As Dr Rakhit explained, heart attacks can affect heart rate in one of two ways – either by increasing or decreasing it.

“Generally, the heart responds to damage, injury and pain caused by a heart attack by increasing heart rate,” he said.

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He continued: “Heart attacks which cause heart rates to reach or exceed around 150 bpm may imply a dangerous life-threatening form of heart rhythm disturbance (ventricular tachycardia) arising from the lower chambers of the heart muscle.”

Alternatively, heart attacks can slow the heart rate to a dangerously low rate.

Dr Rakhit explained: “This might be indicative of a heart attack involving the bottom and back of the heart and can sometimes lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure and subsequently, a blackout.”

What should I do if I have concerns about my heart rate?

“It is important to take notice of any abnormalities and seek medical advice if you feel that your heart rate is not normal or consistent,” he said.

Dr Rakhit added: “If you are worried, or experience any of the above symptoms, please do speak to a professional.”

How is a heart attack treated?

According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), many people need to have emergency treatment to restore the blood flow.

This may include:

  • Coronary angioplasty re-opens the blocked coronary artery by inserting one or more stents. This helps keep the narrowed artery open.
  • Thrombolysis involves giving you ‘clot-busting’ medicine to dissolve the blood clot that’s blocking the coronary artery.
  • Coronary bypass surgery helps to restore normal blood flow by using a blood vessel from your leg, arm or chest in your heart to bypass the blocked artery.

“You might not have these treatments if your doctor decides it’s not safe or necessary,” the BHF adds.

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