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Do You Know Your Heart?

Do You Know Your Heart?

January 29, 2024 Posted in: Heart & Vascular Care  5 minute read time


Every moment of every day, your heart is busy pushing oxygenrich blood throughout your body. When something goes wrong with it, you can experience serious complications. Do you know your heart well enough to know when to take action?

“Not everyone seeks early evaluation for heart-related symptoms, because they don’t know what to look for,” said Hussam Hamdalla, MD, FACC, FSCAI, cardiologist with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Cardiology. “This is a problem. The earlier we detect heart problems, the easier it is to manage and treat them without a trip to the emergency department [ED] in the middle of the night with worsening chest pain or a heart attack.”

Minor Symptoms, Major Problem

According to Dr. Hamdalla, reduced energy is one of the most common early-stage heart disease symptoms. Suddenly, mowing the grass or performing other normal activities doesn’t come easily. You wear out quickly and require frequent breaks. When you’re active, you get out of breath easily.

Crushing chest pain is not the only sign you have heart disease. Squeezing chest pain, an uneasiness or heaviness, and discomfort are common with heart disease. There are a variety of concerning symptoms that many people overlook, including:

  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • Swelling in the feet or ankles


Dr. Hamdalla sees people of all ages who ignore these symptoms.

“Older people don’t want to complain, so they write off their minor symptoms as part of the aging process,” he said. “Younger people feel invincible. They can’t imagine their heart is in trouble, despite the increasing number of people experiencing heart attacks during their 20s and early 30s.”

Having a Heart-to-Heart

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for heart disease symptoms.

“Most people experience a slow, gradual onset of heart disease,” Dr. Hamdalla said. “Being attentive to your health early can help detect heart disease before symptoms arise.”

The best way to monitor your heart health is by working with your primary care provider. No matter what symptoms you experience, tell your provider as soon as possible. He or she can perform blood tests and other examinations to check cholesterol and blood pressure levels and more. If appropriate, your provider will refer you to a cardiologist or other specialist.

Your provider may also recommend Saint Joseph Hospital’s new Health Risk Assessment, a group of tests and health factors that have been proved to indicate your chance of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke.

“Regular heart screenings and cardiac tests help detect silent killers,” said Sheila Devine Griffeth, MSN, market vice president, cardiovascular, infusion, neuroscience and surgical services at CHI Saint Joseph Health. “Once you know of potential threats, you can take steps to reduce risk for heart attack or stroke.”

Available since November 2023, the Health Risk Assessment combines several common heart disease screenings in a single appointment. The results indicate the degree of risk: borderline, intermediate or high. Tests performed include:

  • Abdominal aorta screening. A provider uses an ultrasound to see how blood flows through the section of the aorta that runs through your abdomen. Aneurysms, or bulges, often form in this area and can be life-threatening if they rupture.
  • Ankle-brachial index. Blood pressure in your ankle and arm are compared. A significant difference between the two can indicate blocked leg arteries.
  • Carotid artery screening. Ultrasound technology helps show blockages in the carotid artery that may lead to stroke.
  • Ejection fraction measurement. This measures how much blood your heart pumps out with each beat.
  • Electrocardiogram. A recording of your heart’s electrical activity detects an abnormal heart rate or rhythm.


The full Health Risk Assessment takes approximately 90 minutes. Afterward, our expert team reviews your results and tells you about your risk for heart disease.

“Having these assessments helps you unlock better cardiovascular health,” Griffeth said. “Thanks to them, you get information to help you take charge of your heart and improve your overall health and well-being.”

To schedule a Health Risk Assessment appointment for your heart, call 859.313.2699.

Teamwork and Technology

For three years, London resident Karen Combs’ heart raced at random intervals, leaving her exhausted and unable to function the rest of the day. Thanks to teamwork and a high-tech watch, she got a diagnosis and treatment.

Arrhythmias cause your heart to beat too quickly, too slowly or at irregular intervals. Combs knew this from her family history: Her grandmother and sister both experienced arrhythmias in the past. When Combs’ heart raced, she knew what to do.

“I contacted my doctor after the first one,” she said, adding that her episodes were hard to predict. They occurred while she was doing everyday activities. She wore a heart monitor for a month, but it didn’t detect any problems. 

Owning Her Health

Combs didn’t give up hope. When a fitness watch that monitored heart rhythm went on the market, Combs bought one. It didn’t take long for the watch to detect an arrhythmia.

She recorded the incident and sent the results to Yousef Darrat, MD, FHRS, cardiologist and electrophysiologist with CHI Saint Joseph Medical Group – Cardiology/EP.

Although the fitness watch wasn’t medical-grade technology, it showed Combs had an arrhythmia called supraventricular tachycardia. A few months later, Dr. Darrat treated the arrhythmia causing the problem with an ablation procedure.

A year later, Combs remains arrhythmia free. Dr. Darrat remains cautiously optimistic about DIY heart monitoring.

“Using a fitness watch is a great way to capture data for a diagnosis, but watches have some limitations, and the tracings need to be reviewed by a health care provider,” he said. “I don’t recommend anyone use it as the final word in diagnosis. Instead, follow up with your provider any time you don’t feel well or your heart races.”

Your heart is your body’s most important muscle. Take action when you see signs of trouble. To schedule a Health Risk Assessment appointment for your heart, call 859.313.2699.

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