The heart of the family

I was acutely aware of my panting as I jogged up the hills and round the circuit at Boot Camp this morning. And of my heart beating. In fact my mortality was way too evident.

That's probably because in the minutes before we started, one of my fellow "campers" had been telling us the story of how her dad, whose own dad had died young of a heart attack, had decided when he reached 50 to have himself checked out. Whoops! He was rushed straight into surgery for a triple bypass.

The reason no-one had picked up that he had a problem was because he had always been a fit man, and so even with a heart that was iffy, he was fitter than most of his contemporaries. "After the operation, he said he could see how much his heart had been struggling," she told us, "because he now felt so fantastic when he exercised - he could run twice as far, do twice as much."

His cardiologist said it was by no means unheard of for this to happen - people's very fitness can apparently mask the symptoms of trouble because problems grow slowly, and we may see them as just a function of getting older; and because we reassure ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, as if the "norm" is something outside of ourselves.

Many of us resist medical check-ups in part because if we feel fine, why open the door to discovering there is actually something wrong? That's also why we are "lazy" about self-examination and routine screenings. But if my gym-mate's dad hadn't found the problem first, the problem would definitely have found him, and he might not be here today (click here for the symptoms of a heart attack - it's surprisingly vague in women).

Men are particularly averse to moseying along to see the doc just in case. But since it's Movember, we reckon it's the very least they should do to reassure themselves, and to reassure the women who love them.

Here's to knowing whatever there is to know!

(Heather Parker, Health24, November 2010)

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