Subtle signs that something is wrong with your heart

Subtle signs that something is wrong with your heart

One of the most important things to monitor is your heart rate.The characteristic rhythm of your heart is known as the sinus rhythm and, according to the British Heart Foundation, causes your heart to beat between 60 and 100 beats every 60 seconds when you’re at rest.

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When you are moving fast or exercising, you may be conscious that your heart rate speeds up. This is usually nothing to worry about, as your heartbeat often fluctuates depending on the activity you are doing.  

Your heart rate can also get faster if you are feeling stressed or anxious.

Changes in your heart’s rhythm

When your heart’s usual electrical rhythm changes or your heart rate slows or gets quicker, this is known as an arrhythmia.

There are several different kinds of arrhythmias and they affect over 700,000 people in the UK.

Most of them aren’t serious, and they can happen at any stage of your life.

There are four common types of arrhythmia:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) - where your heart beats abnormally fast, often between 140 and 220 bpm, for short periods of time,
  • Sinus brachycardia – where your resting heartbeat is very slow, typically less than 60 bpm.
  • Sinus tachycardia – where your resting heartbeat is irregularly high, usually over 100 bpm.
  • Atrial fibrillation – where your heart beats faster than usual or feels irregular

According to Dr Sarah Jarvis, it is “quite normal” for your heart to have the odd extra beat, and most people experience this at least once a day.

However, alarm bells should start ringing if you hear or feel your heart beating and have symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness or if you feel lightheaded or have pain in your chest.

If this happens, you should see your GP as soon as possible. Irregular heart patterns can also cause blackouts, so if you do faint or lose consciousness, even for a very brief period, you should again get this checked out.  

Heart murmurs

A heart murmur can be loud or soft, and is an extra sound that happens when your heart beats.

Even though the term ‘heart murmur’ suggests you might be able to hear this sound, the only way to identify if you have one is for a doctor to listen to your heart with a stethoscope.

Murmurs often sound like a whooshing noise, and if you are otherwise healthy with no other medical conditions, they are usually nothing to worry about.

You can have a heart murmur at any age, and they can occur in children too.

A heart murmur is only problematic from a medical perspective if it is caused by acquired heart valve disease. This means it has occurred due to another health condition, such as a disease or infection, or as a result of ageing.

Know your family heart history

Heart conditions can often be hereditary, so always find out whether your family has any history of heart problems.

‘Cardiomyopathy is a disease that affects the heart muscle. It can run in families, affecting one or several people,’says Maureen Talbot, who works as a senior cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation.

There are three different kinds of cardiomyopathy. These are dilated, hypertrophic and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, and they all occur when one or more genes mutate or change. These conditions can be free of symptoms, although in some cases you may experience breathlessness, chest pains, or blackouts.

If you have hypotrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy, then there is a 50% chance you will pass it on to any children you might have. Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy is much rarer, but all three types of cardiomyopathy will affect the way your heart beats, as well as its shape and size.

If any members of your family have been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, it’s vital to be screened for it yourself, even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms. If you don’t and the condition goes untreated, you may have abnormal heart rhythms and there is even a risk of sudden death.

Don’t suffer in silence if you are worried that you could have a heart condition. Go and see your GP and talk about your concerns. They will be able to give you a check-up and reassure you that all is well, or arrange further tests if they think that there could be an issue.

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