Could High Cholesterol be Causing Your Chest Pain?

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Do you sometimes feel pain, pressure, or discomfort in your chest? If so, you may have angina, a condition in which your heart doesn’t get enough of the oxygen-rich blood it needs.

Angina can have a variety of causes, but the most common is coronary heart disease, which occurs when a waxy substance known as plaque builds up in the arteries. Plaque can accumulate in your arteries when you have high cholesterol.

If you have chest pain related to high cholesterol and plaque buildup, you need to understand your condition and your symptoms. The dedicated team of providers here at HeartCare Associates of Connecticut, LLC would like to share the following facts about chest pain and cholesterol.

Good cholesterol, bad cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat found in all of your body’s cells. Your body uses cholesterol for various important jobs, such as manufacturing hormones and vitamin D and helping you digest foods.

Your body makes all of the cholesterol it needs. You also get cholesterol from animal foods such as eggs, meat, and dairy products.

There are several kinds of cholesterol. The “bad” types include low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which carries triglycerides. These are referred to as “bad” because they lead to the buildup of plaque in your arteries.

Another type of cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered “good” because it helps remove cholesterol from your body.

Sticky plaque

When you have too much “bad” cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other compounds in your blood and form plaque, a sticky substance that can narrow the space in which blood can flow through your arteries. A buildup of plaque is called atherosclerosis.

Having atherosclerosis can cause chest pain because your heart doesn’t get the blood it needs.

And it can lead to a heart attack if a piece of plaque breaks off and causes a clot that blocks blood flow in a heart artery.  

Treatment for chest pain

If you have chest pain related to plaque buildup, we recommend lifestyle changes that can protect your heart, such as:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight or obese
  • Becoming physically active
  • Reducing stress
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Keeping your blood sugar in check if it is elevated
  • Controlling your blood pressure if it is high

Lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

We also may prescribe certain medications for chest pain, such as anticoagulants that help prevent blood clots. And for some patients, procedures such as angioplasty or bypass surgery can restore blood flow and reduce chest pain.

Know the warning signs of heart attack

Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Call 911 if you feel any of the following:

  • Pain, pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both of your arms, your back, your neck, your jaw, or your stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness

Don’t ignore any of these signs of a heart attack. Quick action could save your life.

Learn more about chest pain

If you have questions about chest pain, the team at HeartCare Associates of Connecticut, LLC are here for you. We serve residents of Hamden, CT and its surrounding communities. We’re happy to help you understand what’s causing your chest pain, how to reduce your pain, and how to protect your heart, so give us a call today at one of our many locations.

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A Positive Mindset Can Help Your Heart

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Can being positive protect against heart disease? Yes! There is a lot of evidence suggesting that having a positive outlook — like being optimistic, cheerful, having gratitude and purpose in life — can be heart-protective. Researchers in the UK looked at psychological characteristics of over 8,000 people, and found that those who scored high on optimism and a sense of well-being enjoyed a 30% lower risk of developing heart disease. Other studies report similar findings: in a study of over 70,000 women followed for over 10 years, those who scored highest on an optimism questionnaire had a significantly lower risk of death from heart attacks (38%) and strokes (39%).

A positive outlook may even be benefit people who already have cardiovascular disease, which is significant, because they are at very high risk of having heart attacks and strokes. In the US Health and Retirement study, in participants with known stable heart disease, positive psychological traits were associated with significantly lower risks of having a heart attack, and these traits included optimism (38% lower risk), positive outlook (32%), and having a purpose in life (27%). In three separate studies involving hundreds of patients with severe disease requiring either coronary bypass graft surgery or stenting, a higher level of optimism was significantly associated with a lower risk of post-procedure hospitalizations.

How does thinking positively affect your heart?

Many studies show that people prone to negative emotions have a higher risk of heart disease. Negative emotions are associated with the release of stress hormones and a physical stress response, resulting in a higher heart rate and blood pressure. Scientists hypothesize that positive people who have a “glass half-full” approach to life are less likely to experience this stress response. Basically, those who tend to look for the bright side of negative situations can avoid the damage that stress inflicts on the cardiovascular system. Another hypothesis is that people with a positive outlook are more likely to use healthy coping strategies like problem-solving to overcome obstacles and manage stressors, whereas people with a negative outlook tend toward unhealthy coping strategies like self-medicating with food and other substances.

Keeping a gratitude journal can help

Researchers have also studied gratitude in patients with heart failure. Those who kept a daily gratitude journal, where they listed three or four things for which they were thankful every day for two months, had lower levels of inflammatory hormones and a lower heart rate during a stressful exercise. This suggests that the simple daily habit of expressing gratitude can have big long-term health effects.

 Are you an optimistic person?

Some people are naturally more inclined to have a positive outlook and look for the silver lining, while others tend to view things in a more negative light. But optimism is as much as skill as a personality trait. You can train your brain to recognize and counteract negative thinking — your heart and health will be better for it.

Source:  Harvard Medical School; Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributing Editor

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  1. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  2. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
  3. Get enough sleep.
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  5. Keep up with your vaccinations. Almost everyone who’s at least 6 months old should get a flu vaccine every year.
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Food is your best source. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, and split the other half between lean protein and grains, as the government’s “MyPlate” guidelines recommend.

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Don’t overdo supplements. Taking too much can be bad for you. Your doctor can let you know what you need.

Manage Your Stress

Everyone gets stressed. Short bursts of stress may help your immune system. But lasting stress is a problem. It can hamper your immune system.

You can take action to tame stress. Make these steps part of your stress management plan:

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What does a heart murmur mean?

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The sounds your doctor hears using a stethoscope while your heart beats are called heart murmurs.

“Innocent” heart murmurs

Innocent heart murmurs are sounds made by blood circulating through the heart’s chambers and valves, or through blood vessels near the heart. Innocent murmurs are common in children and are harmless. These heart murmurs may also be referred to as “functional” or “physiologic” murmurs.

A high percentage of children are likely to have had an innocent heart murmur at some time. Innocent murmurs may disappear and then reappear. When a child’s heart rate changes, such as during excitement or fear, these innocent murmurs may become louder or softer. This still doesn’t signal that the innocent murmur is cause for concern.

If your doctor hears a heart murmur when listening to your child’s heart, he or she may recommend additional testing to confirm that the murmur is innocent.

Unless testing suggests that further inquiry is warranted, no next steps may be necessary. With an innocent heart murmur, your child won’t need medication, and doesn’t have a heart problem or heart disease. You don’t need to pamper or restrict your child’s diet or activities. Your child can be as active as any other normal, healthy child.

Most innocent murmurs disappear when a child reaches adulthood, but some adults still have them.

Other causes

Other, non-innocent heart murmurs are often caused by defective heart valves. For example, a stenotic heart valve has a smaller-than-normal opening and can’t open completely. Or, a valve may also be unable to close completely. This leads to regurgitation, which is blood leaking backward through the valve when it should be closed.

Certain congenital defects as well as other conditions such as pregnancy, fever, anemia or thyrotoxicosis (a diseased condition resulting from an overactive thyroid gland) can also cause murmurs.

A murmur that occurs when the heart muscle relaxes between beats is called a diastolic murmur. A systolic murmur occurs when the heart muscle contracts.

Systolic murmurs are graded by intensity (loudness) from 1 to 6, with a stethoscope slightly removed from the chest. A grade 1 out of 6 is faint, heard only with a special effort. A grade 6 out of 6 (6/6) is extremely loud, and can be heard with a stethoscope even when slightly removed from the chest.

Source: American Heart Association

If you have questions about your heart health, please call your HeartCare physician.

(203) 407-2500