Healthy Heart Test
Take the Healthy Heart Test to find out how old your heart is compared to your actual age.
Enter as much detail as possible into the calculator for the most accurate results. You must be at least 30 years old to complete the test.
- Irregular heartbeat detection
- Universal cuff 22cm - 42cm
- 90 reading memory x 1 user
- Clinically validated – BIHS & ESH approved
- One button operation
Is my heart rate normal?
A resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute (bpm) is considered ‘normal’ for most adults.
In general, increasing your cardiovascular fitness will reduce your resting heart rate. A highly trained athlete, for example, may have a resting heart rate closer to 40 beats per minute.
Is my heart rate too high?
A heart rate in excess of 100 bpm is considered high. You can work out your maximum heart rate through the following equation (220 – your age). So if you are 70 years old, 220 – 70 = 150 bpm max heart rate. Calculating your maximum heart rate can be used to identify your ideal exercise intensity in line with your goals (e.g., lower heart rate zones may be better at burning fat verses higher ‘cardio’ zones).
While it is normal for the heart rate to increase during exercise, there are also other causes of fast heart rates such as illness or abnormal heart rhythms (cardiac arrhythmias).
If ever your heart rate is elevated compared to normal for you, even if it is less than 100, and you are feeling unwell (e.g., lightheaded, short of breath, feverish, confused, or getting chest pain), then please seek prompt medical attention as appropriate.
This may involve ringing 999 for severe, life-threatening symptoms, or contacting your National Health Service GP or 111 for less severe symptoms.
Is my heart rate too low?
A low heart rate isn’t always a concern, athletes commonly have a heart rate between 40 and 60 bpm. However, if you do have a lower heart rate than 60 bpm and you’re not an athlete, you may have a condition called bradycardia (this is the medical term for ‘low heart rate’) which can prevent the brain and other organs from getting enough oxygen, possibly causing these signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Confusion or memory problems
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Easily tiring during physical activity
- Fainting (syncope) or near-fainting
- Shortness of breath
Many things can cause signs and symptoms of bradycardia. It’s important to get a prompt, accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.
See your health care provider urgently if you think you may have symptoms of bradycardia.
Common heart attack signs and symptoms include:
- Pressure, tightness, pain, heaviness or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back. Some people only get the pain in these other places (neck, jaw, left arm and back), Nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, cold sweats, fatigue, lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.
Palpitation is a descriptive word to mean that the heart feels like it is beating to a different rhythm than normal. This may include feeling as though it is beating much more quickly than normal, or maybe that it seems to be missing the odd beat, or missing lots of beats with no real pattern. Palpitations can have a range of causes which can vary from being quite benign to really quite serious. If you have new palpitations, it’s usually best to speak to a doctor about these.
If you get palpitations that make you feel unwell, such as feeling lightheaded, short of breath, or getting chest pains at the same time, this could be a sign that your heart is struggling to cope with the different rhythm. If this happens, you should seek emergency medical attention by attending A&E or ringing 999.
One possible cause of palpitations is an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, or AF. This is where the top two smaller chambers in the heart (the atria) flip between relaxing and contracting much more quickly than normal, in an uncoordinated way (fibrillation). If left untreated, this can lead to multiple serious consequences. One of these is that the blood flowing through the heart can become much more turbulent, which can cause little clots to form. This is dangerous as a clot can then get pumped elsewhere where it gets stuck in a blood vessel and blocks off flow downstream. If this happens in the brain, it causes a stroke. If it happens elsewhere, it is called an arterial embolism and can cause death of whatever body part is downstream if the blood flow is not restored quickly.
The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word FAST:
Face – the face may have dropped on 1 side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may appear to be drooping.
Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in 1 arm.
Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.
As you can see from this labelled diagram, the heart has four valves.
Two of the valves are the connecting passageways between the small chambers of the heart that blood first flows into (the atria) and their bigger, more muscular chambers that the smaller ones direct blood towards (the ventricles).
On the right side of the heart (as in, the heart’s right side, or your left as you look at the diagram), the tricuspid valve (named sensibly for it’s three components) sits between the right atrium and the right ventricle.
On the left side of the heart, the mitral valve (named somewhat less sensibly after a bishop’s mitre hat which it resembles due to having only two components) sits between the left atrium and the left ventricle.
The last two valves of the heart are at the end of the blood’s journey through the heart. Blood leaving the right ventricle and going into the pulmonary artery towards the lungs leaves through the pulmonary valve. Blood leaving the left ventricle and heading to the rest of the body via the aorta passes through the aortic valve.
The function of the valves, like any other valve, is to keep blood flowing in the right direction. When the ventricles contract, they force the valves between them and the atria closed, meaning the blood the ventricles are pushing out gets channelled in the right direction. Similarly, when the ventricles relax and pressure changes, the pulmonary and aortic valves plug up the heart and stop the blood that’s just left it from leaking back through again.
A murmur is a description of the heart making a different sound to the usual ‘lub dub’ that is heard with a stethoscope. It can be caused by many different issues, some of which can be considered ‘normal’.
Usually, for any unexpected or persistent murmur, a scan of the heart is done to check that everything is working as it should. This is called an echocardiogram and is generally done using a hand-held ultrasound probe and a bit of jelly, similar to the ultrasound scans that pregnant women have. One of the main things that the scan checks is how well the four valves of the heart are working. If a valve is more stiff than normal (stenosis), it can cause a sound as the blood has to push through at higher pressures. If a valve is leaky (regurgitation), this can also cause a murmur. This is important as both of these problems can have knock-on effects on how efficiently the heart is able to pump.
Heart failure is a term used when the heart muscle isn’t contracting as efficiently as it should. The medical term for heart failure is Congestive Cardiac Failure or CCF for short. ‘Failure’ may sound misleadingly catastrophic as the term is used even if a heart hasn’t failed as such, but just isn’t working quite as well as normal. (It can however cause catastrophic consequences when it is severe.) This can essentially lead to a bit of a traffic jam of blood trying to get through the heart, which can cause pile-ups further away.
Depending on which part of the heart muscle is affected, the symptoms of heart failure may differ.
If it is mainly the right side of the heart involved, the traffic jam leads to blood stagnating somewhat in the body with gravity. As blood leaks out of the small blood vessels into the surrounding areas, this might lead to swollen ankles and legs for those who spend the day upright (peripheral oedema). For people who are bed-bound, gravity can cause the swelling to accumulate in their lower back.
If the left side of the heart is affected, the backlog of blood can lead to fluid piling up in the lungs (pulmonary oedema), causing shortness of breath. It might make it hard to lie flat due to gravity exacerbating the effects of the fluid build-up.
Heart failure can have multiple possible causes. One common cause is when a part of the muscular wall of the heart is damaged or not able to contract as well due to a reduced blood supply to this part of the heart itself (ischaemic heart disease). This in turn might be caused by smoking or having raised cholesterol levels and results in there being less oxygen getting to this part of the muscle, which then affects how well it can work.
Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can alter the shape of the heart and make it harder for it to beat efficiently.
Raised blood pressure can cause heart disease through both damaging the heart’s own blood supply (coronary arteries) and also by altering the shape of the main muscle of the heart – the left ventricle. This can lead to stiffness of the ventricle and an inability to adjust its performance to any increased demands from the body.
This is something of an umbrella term that refers to multiple different diseases, including:
- Heart disease. This itself means any problem with the heart, such as heart failure, or problems with the blood supply to the heart, such as angina or heart attacks (ischaemic heart disease).
- Vascular disease. This itself can encompass any conditions that affect blood vessels. One important example is an aortic aneurysm (an abnormal widening of part of the main blood vessel leaving the heart which can cause life-threatening internal bleeding if it ruptures). Another example is peripheral vascular disease, meaning reduced blood flow to other parts of the body.
Cardiovascular Disease Causes
There are multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Some of the risk is inherited in your genes, but others are linked to lifestyle, such as:
Also, other medical conditions can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease:
- High blood pressure (read here: how to naturally lower blood pressure)
- Raised cholesterol
- Types I and II Diabetes Mellitus
Cardiovascular Disease Symptoms
These are totally variable and dependent on the underlying type of cardiovascular disease involved. Symptoms of heart disease may include: heaviness, pressure or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, ankle swelling, weight gain and being unable to lie flat due to difficulty breathing.
Symptoms of peripheral vascular disease may include calf pain brought on by exercise and relieved by rest (intermittent claudication) and/or cold, numb, painful or more pale extremities.
Treatment for cardiovascular disease
This also is dependent on the specific type of disease. As a generalisation, treatment may involve lifestyle modification to reduce risk factors, medication to reduce risk factors (lowering blood pressure and cholesterol for example), medication to treat the issue itself, and sometimes invasive surgical procedures, such as placing a stent to open up blood flow.