Thursday, November 14, 2013

Being mindful of heart attack warning signs

If this doesn’t scare you, it should: one in every four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. A heart attack strikes about every 34 seconds.

The average age for a man to have his first heart attack is 66; for a woman it’s 70. It’s the leading cause of death for both men and women every year; most don’t even see it coming.

Scary, isn’t it?

Do the math. If about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, that’s about 13 times the total population of Calaveras County.

Not being aware of heart attack symptoms can be fatal. Take a few minutes to learn the warning signs, actions you can take for the best outcome should an attack occur and preventative measures to protect your precious heart.
You may even save the life of someone you love, or perhaps your own.

What causes a heart attack?
Heart attacks are often the result of coronary artery disease that occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary artery. Blood flow to a section of the heart muscle is reduced or cut off, usually due to a blood clot and the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs. The blocked section of the heart muscle begins to die without a quick restoration of blood flow.
The location of the clot in the associated artery plays an important role. If there’s a large clot that causes extensive damage and the heart stops beating, it could be fatal in minutes. However, most heart attacks last for several hours.

Every minute counts. According to the American Heart Association, treatments to restore blood flow to the heart should begin within one hour after heart attack symptoms begin. Getting help quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

Heart attacks develop in many ways.
Does a heart attack always begin with sudden, excruciating chest pain No. The fact is heart attack symptoms can vary widely. While many attacks do hit in dramatic fashion, others sneak up mildly and slowly, causing little pain at all. So how do you know? Signs of a heart attack include:
•Squeezing chest pain or pressure.
•Shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea or sweating.
•Pain spreading to shoulders, neck, arm or jaw.
•Feeling of heartburn or indigestion with or without nausea and vomiting.
•Sudden dizziness or brief loss of consciousness.
Heart attack symptoms that are more likely to occur in women include:
•Indigestion, gas-like pain or nausea.
•Unexplained dizziness, weakness or fatigue.
•Discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades.
•Recurring chest discomfort.
•Sense of impending doom.

Don’t delay seeking help.
Some people worry about being embarrassed if they go to the hospital and receive a clean bill of health. But it’s wise to play it safe! Better to experience a little embarrassment than delay life-saving measures that could save your life.
The majority of heart attack victims are warned well in advance by episodes of chest pain that recede within minutes. But about 25 percnet of heart attacks occur without any previous warning signs at all.
About 47 percnet of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside of a hospital, suggesting that many people ignore early warning signs.
Pay attention to your body. If you experience signs of a heart attack, don’t delay more than five minutes. Have someone drive you to the hospital or call 911.
Never drive yourself to the hospital unless there is no other option. Emergency medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment sooner – such as oxygen, heart medications and pain relievers.
The bottom line? The faster you get help, the better your chance of survival.

Take action while waiting for the ambulance.
Chew and swallow an aspirin. Why? Most heart attacks develop when a cholesterol-laden plaque in a coronary artery ruptures. Relatively small plaques, which produce only partial blockages, are the ones most likely to rupture. When they do, they attract platelets (the tiny blood cells that trigger blood clotting) to their surface. Aspirin helps by inhibiting platelets. Only a tiny amount is needed to inhibit all the platelets in the bloodstream; in fact, small amounts are better than high doses. But since the clot grows minute by minute, time is of the essence.
Lie still and try to remain calm. If the patient becomes unconscious, doesn’t have a pulse or isn’t breathing, a trained person should perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation. If you’re not CPR-trained, a 911 dispatcher may be able to talk you through the steps until help arrives.

Are you at risk?
High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors; about one in three (33.5 percent) adults has high blood pressure.
Several medical conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:
• Diabetes
• Overweight and obesity
• A poor diet
• Physical inactivity
• Excessive alcohol use
According to the American Heart Association, about 82 percnet of people who die of coronary heart disease are at least 65 years old. Heart attacks in the United States are uncommon among people younger than 55, but the numbers are rising because obesity is a growing problem.
Many people attribute heart attack symptoms to other conditions. No matter your age, the more symptoms you experience, the more likely it is that you are having a heart attack.

Heart disease can be preventable.

Although family history is a big risk factor that can’t be changed, use your genetic history as a road map to good health. There’s no better prevention than addressing the reversible risk factors; you can most likely lower your chance of heart disease.

Schedule an appointment with your health care provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease. Follow your doctor’s instructions and stay on medications.

Modify your diet if needed, eat a healthy diet that is low in salt, low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Quit smoking. Just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent.

Start an exercise program. Walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.

Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the quality of life and life expectancy of people with heart disease. Give yourself the gift of a long, healthy life.

By Judy Georgiou:  Judy Georgiou is a freelance writer. She can be reached at

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