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Q:I get pains in my chest. How do I know if it’s my heart or something else?

A:Sometimes it’s hard to tell yourself if pains in your chest are something to worry about or not. If the pain is coming from your heart, only rest, calm deep breathing and anginine (heart medication) will relieve the pain, as it is the heart muscle not getting enough blood supply causing the pain. If you find that the pain is worse when you breathe deeply, when you lie on one side or is worse when you press the area with your fingers, it’s more likely to be a muscular pain. Most importantly, if you think it could be your heart and it is not relieved with rest for 15 minutes, call an ambulance and go to the hospital. If you are having a heart attack, the quicker you get treatment, the less damage done to your heart.

Q: What is an ECG?

A:Most clients reading this will probably have had an ECG (electrocardiogram) taken by their doctor, but what is it? To answer what an ECG is we first have to understand a little bit about how the heart works. The normal rhythm of the heart is called sinus rhythm. The top chambers of the heart are called atria and the bottom two chambers ventricles. In sinus rhythm, the sinus node (located in the top right atria) generates an electrical signal, which travels across both atria, causing these chambers to contract. This contraction pumps blood from the top two atria to the bottom two ventricles.

In the normal heart the only point where an electrical signal can pass from the atria to the ventricles is called the atrioventricular node (AV node). This node acts as a time delay (approximately 0.2 seconds) which gives the blood enough time to be pumped into the ventricles. After the delay it sends the electrical signal through to cause both the right and left ventricle to contract, which pumps the blood out to the lungs from the right side, and through the aorta to the body from the left side. This whole cycle is one heartbeat, which we can hear as the ‘Lub Dub’ sound of the heart.

An ECG is a tracing of the electrical activity of the heart over a period of time to capture a series of heart beats in a row. The faster the heart is beating the more complexes (heart beats) seen in the ECG and we can calculate the speed (rate) of the heart by counting them. The normal heart beat makes a distinct pattern which medical and nursing staff can recognise immediately. Slight changes to the ‘normal’ pattern can indicate different problems and can identify arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats), if someone is having a heart attack or have had old heart attacks, some congenital or valve problems and even inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart to name a few.

An ECG is just a snapshot of what was happening to your heart at that time, so for some problems, the ECG may not show anything abnormal, such as it cannot tell if the racing heart beat you felt yesterday was a rhythm problem. ECGs are one of many tests used to diagnose different problems and you may have one in conjunction with other tests.

To have an ECG you will need to lie on a bed. Four leads are attached to stickers on your arms and legs and six to your chest, around your heart area, so you may need to remove or unbutton your top, take off your bra if wearing one and sometimes you will need to have some chest hair shaved to get the best contact for the stickers. Once attached to the machine you will need to lie still to get the best tracing as movement interrupts the signal. Once the person taking the ECG is happy with the tracing they have captured, they will unhook the ECG machine. The best thing is an ECG doesn’t hurt a bit!

Q:How long does a pacemaker last for?

A:On average a pacemaker generator lasts 6-8 years but it all depends on how much work the pacemaker is required to do. Most pacemakers are set to fire only when the person's own heartbeat is not working properly. This means some pacemakers do more work than others and the more work done the shorter the device will last. Once a person has a pacemaker inserted, it is important that they have regular check-ups by a cardiologist or pacemaker technician to:

  • Measure the amount of battery power left
  • Assess the function of the pacemaker and check the settings
  • Make sure that there are no problems with the pacemaker generator or leads

Q:How often should I have my Blood Pressure checked?

A:If your blood pressure is 'normal' (less than 120/80) and you have no personal or family history of high blood pressure, the Heart Foundation recommends a check every two years and doing routine visits to your doctor. If it is 140/90 or higher, or you have a personal or family history of high blood pressure, stroke or heart attack, it is best to have it checked more often, as advised by your doctor. If your blood pressure is high on several occasions it is important to have it checked often, especially if your doctor has prescribed medication. Your doctor may want to see you more often (e.g. every two weeks) until your blood pressure is controlled, then every 1-3 months until it is stable and regularly thereafter.

Q: What is angina?

A: Angina is the chest pain a person experiences when not enough blood is getting to their heart muscle. This often happens when people have plaque build-up within their coronary (heart) arteries and can also happen due to the artery spasming. Plaque build-up can restrict the amount of blood able to get past it. Often when people have this, the pain will be felt when they are being more active, like when they walk upstairs or run. For someone without coronary artery disease, the heart would then beat faster and more blood would be pushed down the arteries. For people with plaque build-up, the extra blood that the heart muscle needs cannot get to the muscle due to the blockage. This causes chest pain, which is basically the heart muscle saying it needs more blood and oxygen.