Archives: August 2022
Smoking is implicated in various cancers, including lung cancer, but its effect on the cardiovascular system is somewhat less discussed. However, smoking profoundly affects our blood vessels and, ultimately, our long-term heart health. Smoking traditional cigarettes can worsen atherosclerosis (the narrowing of the arteries) both in the heart and peripheral extremities, causing problems with limb health and even dramatically increasing the risk of a heart attack. Traditional smoking also constricts blood vessels around the body, meaning that the heart must work harder to pump blood. For example, the body will have a more challenging time fighting off infection after an injury or surgery. Healing is often compromised too. With the advent of E-cigarettes and so-called vaping, many believe it is an appropriate and significantly lower-risk alternative to traditional tobacco products. But is this the case? Should vaping be considered a suitable option for those trying to quit smoking? There is a lot we know and even more that we don’t.
If you are reaching middle age or left that behind a while ago, you have likely had an EKG or electrocardiogram at your annual physical with your primary care physician. If you have visited a cardiologist, you’ve likely had one at their office too. The EKG was a transformative medical device that allowed us, as cardiologists, to accurately track the rhythm of the heart and see if there were any apparent abnormalities. The non-invasive nature of the EKG, such that the test can be administered quickly and inexpensively in any medical setting, offers your physician a great deal of information about the workings of your heart.
Of course, with this excellent and convenient option come some limitations. An EKG is simply a snapshot of your heart’s rhythm at one point in time and cannot give us a longer-term picture. As such, it may not always be the best option when diagnosing heart rhythm disorders known as arrhythmias. A cardiac arrhythmia is a fast (tachycardia) or alternately slow (bradycardia) heartbeat caused by several potential factors. However, one of the hallmarks of arrhythmias, especially early on, is that they often do not present consistently. Known as paroxysmal arrhythmias, these irregular heartbeats can happen once a day, once a week, or once a month in varying degrees of severity. There is no accurate way to predict when the next episode will occur. Patients who come into their primary care physician’s office complaining of heart palpitations may not get a definitive answer because the equipment cannot detect an irregular heartbeat when the patient is not at the office.