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Experts answer 5 intriguing heart health questions

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Monica Matys
Written by Monica Matys

Every year for Heart Month, Sunnybrook assembles a panel of leading experts to discuss the newest treatment options and prevention strategies. This year’s lecture: Ticker Talk: Heart News That’s Good For You. Here are some of the intriguing audience questions the panel responded to during the discussion:

Can the heart be physically damaged by a psychological loss or trauma?
The impact of extreme and sudden stress — such as that brought on by a personal loss or tragedy — has become increasingly recognized as a factor affecting heart health. Dr. Bradley Strauss, Chief of the Schulich Heart Centre, says there is definitely a link between sudden tragedy and acute heart muscle dysfunction. “Usually, people recover, but in a small number of cases, people die or are left with severe heart muscle dysfunction,” he says. “The relationship between emotional distress and the heart is real in ways we still don’t properly understand.”

For your heart health, is it better to sleep on your right side or left side?
If you sleep on your left side, you may be more aware of your heartbeat, which could be unpleasant for some. However, experts say there is no medical reason to choose one side over the other. It really comes down to personal preference.

Is there a specific type of exercise that is better for your heart?
It’s generally recommended that people get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week — which breaks down to about 30 minutes five times per week. Cardiologist Dr. Mark Hansen says the important thing is choosing an activity you enjoy so you continue doing it.

For patients undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, walking is often recommended as the baseline exercise because it’s easy and readily accessible. If you are currently living with a heart condition, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program to ensure it’s safe and appropriate.

Are sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) related?
Sleep apnea causes pauses in your breathing or shallow breaths during sleep, and has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. But Dr. Eugene Crystal, director of Arrhythmia Services, says there is also likely a connection between sleep apnea and atrial fibrillation. Both of these conditions share risk factors, including older age and being overweight. And many people are found to have atrial fibrillation for the first time when they undergo a sleep test. Despite these links, he says it’s not clear if you can cure atrial fibrillation by treating sleep apnea. It’s important to get proper guidance on managing each condition from your doctor.

Is there a link between varicose veins and heart disease?
Varicose veins are very common, but really have no relevance to the development or severity of heart disease.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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