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Matters of the Heart

Have you ever noticed how medical professionals speak a different language to the rest of us? Terminology that is used amongst them can often be misleading and in some cases frightening when directed at the rest of us.

A perfect example of this came to light recently. A close friend had been to hospital for a variety of tests following a heart ‘scare’. The results arrived at his home and he was horrified by what he read and so he telephoned my wife (cardiac physiologist!). The letter stated that he had Sinus rhythm but did not add what action needed to be taken. Now some may know the answer already but probably a large number wont, but Sinus rhythm is a normal heart rhythm and so nothing to worry about.

Angina is another condition that we hear a lot about, apparently 10-15% of women and 10-20% of men over 65 suffer from this condition (NHS Choices) so it is quite common. But what does it mean? Does it mean you have had a heart attack or are going to have one?

Angina is a term used to refer to chest pain which is often associated with heart disease.

The heart is simply a muscle and restricting the flow of blood to any muscle and starving it of oxygen will cause pain, especially under exertion.

The heart itself is supplied by two arteries (Coronary Arteries). Narrowing and hardening of these arteries (Atherosclerosis) restricts the supply of blood to the heart and hence the pain. The restriction is caused by the build up of a waxy substance (Cholesterol) into lumps (Plaque) in the arteries.

Angina is classified in two ways:

Stable Angina - symptoms develop gradually under exertion or stress. The symptoms are short lived but do indicate a risk of more serious conditions – heart attack or stroke

Unstable Angina – symptoms, even at rest, develop rapidly and persist. Considered as a medical emergency

People who have hardened or narrowed coronary arteries are said to suffer from Coronary Heart Disease.

So how does this lead to a Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction). This occurs when a portion of the plaque that has built up in the coronary arteries breaks away and a blood clot is formed by the body’s natural system. The lack of blood to the heart can cause irreversible damage if f not treated.

What risk factors are there? Smoking, high fat diet, diabetes, weight and age are contributing factors.

So it can be seen that even in this limited area of health care that there are numerous terms and phrases which can confuse an individual.

Ensure you are being treated in an environment where the clinician will provide as much time as is necessary to explain your condition to you – don’t be afraid to ask!


Colin Ablett 5th April 2011


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