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Have A Heart

An MRI can accurately assess whether you are prone to heart failure

My mother died at the age of 54 and my father just a few short years later at 59. Heart failure was the cause in both cases. 

This was undoubtedly a significantly different generation in terms of nutrition and exercise. My father smoked and my mother was overweight. They lived through the years when we were advised to prolong our lives with low-fat products that were loaded with carbohydrates, so the very British diet of bread, potatoes and sugary baked goods were very much the norm.

My father was an outstanding athlete at school and university, but the harsh winters and unsatisfactory summers didn’t do much to encourage that generation to remain active once a family, career and mortgage had become the mainstays of suburban life.

There were no warning signs, although I did nag at them to eat more healthily, but their demise was a shock that I hadn’t genuinely prepared myself for. 

What I was prepared for was to live a longer, healthier life. So I did a lot of reading on low-carbohydrate lifestyles and have continued to be active in sport and general fitness.

My reading informed me that there are five major contributors to an unhealthy heart: smoking, a lack of exercise, diet, stress and (yes) the hereditary factor. I don’t smoke, I do exercise, my diet is on point 90 per cent of the time and I’m barely ever stressed. But it only takes the weakest link in the chain to break the whole thing so I’ve often taken tests to monitor my heart as my hereditary status simply isn’t a controllable factor. 

The older I get the more my cholesterol has crept closer to the red zone and once or twice I’ve considered medication only to brush away the thought with renewed stoicism over diet and exercise. But at the age of 54, I went for an executive health check earlier this year where the cholesterol levels were elevated once again. 

As my doctor reviewed the results of the numerous tests I had taken several days earlier, he scanned his finger across the readings, he made several approving noises until we got to the blood readings. 

“I think we’ll have to put you on medication for your cholesterol.” He turned over to the next page and raised his eyebrows. “Oh, no we won’t.”

I had requested an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan on my heart. I’d read about how cholesterol checks, though useful indicators, were just that and that the definitive way to assess the degree to which the coronary arteries are clogged is with a scan. 

“You have no blockages in your arteries. That puts you in the top percentile of people for your age group.”

“But if I have no blockages at all,” I interjected smugly, “Doesn’t that mean I’m in the top percentile for any age.”

He looked up from the report and across the table towards me. 

“Yes.” 

My smugness reached new levels. 

Singapore HealthHub website tells us that over time, high levels of cholesterol builds up as plaque, which narrows blood vessels and makes them less flexible, a condition called atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. 

This can happen to blood vessels anywhere in the body, including those of the heart, which are called the coronary arteries. When atherosclerosis affects the coronary arteries, the condition is called coronary heart disease or coronary artery disease.

MRI scans can detect blockages in the coronary arteries, to determine the risk of heart attack is a far more definitive indication of your heart’s state of play.

MRIs use a magnetic field and radio frequency waves to create detailed pictures of organs and other structures inside your body. It can be used to examine your heart and blood vessels.

WebMD says that an MRI can additionally help your doctor see if there are signs of conditions like pericardial disease, cardiac tumours, heart valve disease, heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy) and congenital heart disease. If you’re concerned about your heart health, talk to your doctor about an MRI. 

Aerobic work, in other words anything you can do in The Gym Pod that gets your heart and lungs working well for a prolonged period, like the HIIT sessions discussed in an earlier article here and jumping on the stationary bike or treadmill, are ideal ways to work on being heart healthy too.  

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