An expert guide to heart health


For National Heart Month, Dr Gosia Wamil, a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare, answers our questions on maintaining a healthy heart

Does loneliness affect heart health?

Studies suggest that people who experience chronic loneliness may be at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. Social connections and supportive relationships contribute to overall wellbeing, and the lack of these connections can lead to increased stress, inflammation and unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, all of which can impact heart health adversely.

Positive social interactions can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve overall emotional wellbeing. Engaging in social activities, spending time with loved ones and building a solid social support network can protect the heart.

How does alcohol affect the heart?

While moderate alcohol consumption may have some cardiovascular benefits, excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy and arrhythmias. It’s crucial to adhere to recommended guidelines for alcohol intake and consult with a healthcare professional about individual risk factors.

Dr Gosia Wamil of Mayo Clinic Healthcare

Dr Gosia Wamil of Mayo Clinic Healthcare

How can someone tell the difference between a panic attack and a heart attack?

Heart attack symptoms often include radiating pain to the left arm, jaw or back. Other symptoms can be nausea and sweating. Panic attacks may involve a sudden surge of intense fear and discomfort, often with a feeling of impending doom. If unsure, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing symptoms suggestive of a heart attack, as this condition requires prompt evaluation and treatment.

What signs or symptoms should we watch for in our overall heart health?

Signs of potential heart issues include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, and irregular heartbeat. It’s important to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical attention if they occur, especially if they’re severe or persistent.

How can you protect your heart health during times of celebration, when food is plentiful and you may not exercise as often?

It’s all about mindfulness. Pay attention to portion sizes and avoid overindulging in high-calorie and high-fat foods. Moderation is vital when it comes to alcohol intake to prevent potential heart issues. Keep your body active by incorporating physical activities into your routines, helping to counteract the effects of increased calorie intake. Manage stress with techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing, as stress can impact your heart health. Avoid highly processed foods that contain added sugars, excessive salt and trans fats, and limit saturated fats in red meat, full-fat dairy and fried foods.

What are some heart-healthy foods that people can work into their meals?

Heart-healthy foods include fruits and vegetables, which are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Whole grains are also important. Oats, quinoa and brown rice provide fibre and nutrients. When it comes to protein, focus on lean options, such as fish, beans, legumes and skinless poultry. Also consider working in healthy fats by adding avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil to your diet.

Dr Gosia Wamil is a consultant cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare