Most of us walk around every day without giving much thought to what keeps us going. Heart disease just doesn't happen to "other people" - it is something that all of us need to give attention to. I'm sure you've heard about it before, but heart disease remains as the number one killer in the United States. Think about that. It plays a major role in the way our world operates - be it on personal relationships or professional life. People get sick, miss work, have to leave certain positions because of stress… on and on.
If you've never had one, you may find it hard to believe that there are times when a person doesn't realize that they've had a heart attack. They just think that it's something else, and if they just sit down or wait a minute, the pain/discomfort will go away. It's important to note that not all heart attacks are the same - and multiple symptoms make it more likely that you are having a heart attack.
Signs & Symptoms of a Heart Attack
1) Chest pain or discomfort (most common) - this is where some people can get confused, thinking it's just a bad case of heartburn or indigestion. But if it doesn't go away, it can be a sign of a heart attack.
2) Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, upper part of stomach, neck, or jaw.
3) Nausea, vomiting, sudden dizziness, cold sweats, light-headedness
4) Shortness of breath
Of course, it's best just to not have a heart attack. Here's what can put you at risk for heart disease:
3) Unhealthy diets with excessive trans fats, cholesterol, saturated fat, and sodium
4) Lack of exercise
6) High blood pressure
7) HIgh blood cholesterol
All of the above are things that you can take action on. Unfortunately, there are also a few things that you can't do anything about:
1) Age. Risk rises for men after 45, and women after 55 or after menopause
2) Family history of heart disease
As stated before, many risk factors are actionable. Stop smoking, for instance. Put down the second twinkie. But that's stuff you know. Some other tips on how to better side step heart disease:
1) Eat variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Lean meats are good, too. Poultry, beans, low-fat milk, and fish. Stay away from those added sugars, sodium, cholesterol, etc.
2) Be physically active. Walk up the stairs instead of the elevator. Go on walks, runs, bike rides - whatever is best for you. Talk to your personal physician about an exercise program that will work for you. (And try to make it fun or challenging - keep your mind preoccupied from the work involved.)
3) Maintain a healthy weight. This is a combination of the two above - but it's important to know that the extra weight you carry around puts additional stress on your body, and if you've got high cholesterol, the risk of clogged arteries increases. So extra stress + clogged arteries = bad news.
In the instances when a person has had a heart attack, we are fortunate in that technology and research are giving us more and more tools to help people get back to regular life after the attack.
1) Clot Busters - they have a fancier name, but that is what they are. They dissolve blood clots that block coronary arteries. Best used within several hours after the beginning of heart attack symptoms. The sooner, the better.
2) Angioplasty - the balloon in your arteries. We use this to press built-up plaque in the arteries and restore blood flow.
3) Beta blockers. These decrease workload on the heart and help to prevent repeat heart attacks.
4) Anticlotting medicines are used to prevent platelets from combining to form blood clots.
5) Anticoagulants - blood thinners.
6) ACE inhibitors to work on lowering blood pressure and reducing heart strain.
7) Bypasses. Take a healthy artery in the body and use it where it is needed.
In treatment, it is extremely important that the patient follows the doctors orders. Too many anticoagulants or beta blockers can cause problems as well. Because everyone is different, medical staffs take great care in preparing the treatment combination for you as an individual. What works for one person may not for another. In short - follow your doctor's orders.
Know that heart disease is a major part of our society. But we can work to make ourselves healthier and be better prepared to avoid and/or treat heart disease. Do what you can to make yourself healthier.
- Dr. William Fonbah