Love your heart

Beeeeeeep….”CLEAR”….Buzz..thud……Beep! Beep! Beep!

If you have ever seen a hospital drama this probably sounds familiar. A doctor, paddle in each hand, stands over a patient suffering from cardiac arrest due to a heart attack. The doctor tries to kick start the patient’s heart by delivering 200 volts to the chest using a defibrillator.

Around the doctor are a team of nurses and technicians all playing a vital role in trying to save the patient’s life. A clot has blocked the blood vessels around the heart of the patient, starving the heart of vital fuel and oxygen. Only through a careful combination of drugs can the cardiologist prevent the heart from stopping pumping blood and the patient from going into cardiac arrest. The defibrillator is the last option, to get the heart beating correctly!

Your heart must beat all the time to keep you alive and will beat about 2.5 billion times in your life-time. It must never stop beating and needs to be able to change speed so that you can both exercise and sleep without encountering problems. Even missing a single beat can lead to problems such as cardiac arrest. Did you know that you are at most risk of having a heart attack in the morning? As your body wakes from sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure increase. This puts more strain on your heart and vessels, increasing the chance that a clot will form.

Many other factors also increase the chances of having a heart attack: drinking too much, being over-weight, smoking and genetic factors. A Cardiologist, cardiac nurse and genetic counsellor try to diagnose, and treat the patients most at risk of a heart attack or heart disease.

More detail on how your heart works and what happens when it goes wrong, can be found at this really interesting page from the BHF: http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/how-your-heart-works.aspx

If you are interested in working with the heart, check out the range of jobs that you could be involved in to keep your patient alive:

  • heart surgeon – treating someone with a damaged heart. Whether it is replacing damaged blood vessels in your heart (with ones from your leg!), to fitting an artificial pacemaker (to literally keep your heart beating) or finally to replace the heart with a donor one
  • cardiologist – diagnosing, assessing and managing patients with diseases of the heart and vascular system
  • cardiac nurse – providing and managing the care of patients with heart problems
  • researcher in cardiovascular medicine/pharmacology – trying to find new drugs and ways of treating patients
  • clinical biochemist – responsible for analysing a patient’s blood and tissue to find out what might be wrong with them and if their drugs are working
  • genetic counsellor – providing information and support to families whose members have genetic disorders or to people at risk from inherited conditions
  • cardiac physiologist – using high-tech equipment to assess patients with heart problems
  • cardiographer – operating the machines which monitor the functioning of the heart