Heart disease is America’s number one killer. About every 34 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. In recognition of February being American Heart Month, Dr. Dorian Beasley, a cardiologist with Indiana University Health, discusses heart attacks and what you need to know.
What is a heart attack?
Heart attacks are caused by a slow buildup of calcium, cholesterol, fat and other substances – known as plaque – which clogs the arteries that take blood to the heart. That buildup causes a heart attack when the blood flow becomes blocked. If untreated, blockages in the arteries can lead to permanent heart damage, abnormal heart rhythms or even death.
What are the signs and symptoms I should look for?
In general, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack happen suddenly. They can include chest discomfort (pain, pressure or tightness), shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or fainting. It is important to remember though that the traditional warning signs can be quite different in women, the elderly and diabetics. In these cases, fatigue or shortness of breath – either new or out of proportion to previous symptoms – can be a manifestation of heart disease.
What should I do if I think I’m having a heart attack?
A heart attack is a medical emergency – don’t delay in taking action! Doctors have a limited amount of time to open blocked arteries. If you suspect you could be having a heart attack or don’t feel quite right, you should seek medical attention and call 911 immediately. If you think you’re having heart attack symptoms, it’s always a good idea to take an aspirin if you have one available. If you are having a heart attack and it goes untreated, it could lead to irreversible heart muscle damage or even death.
What often surprises people about heart disease and heart attacks?
To start, the development of heart disease can be quiet. Frequently, patients are unaware of the plaque buildup in their arteries. The development of it begins in the teenage years and can progress silently and undetected throughout adult life. As for heart attacks, it’s important to remember that they’re not always painful. You can have a heart attack without chest pain.
What can I do to lessen my chances of a heart attack?
The most important thing is to control the risk factors that contribute to the development and worsening of heart disease. This includes routine visits with your physician to assist in controlling factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking or tobacco use and sugar control. When in doubt, always talk to your doctor.
You might be at risk of a heart attack if you:
• Are diabetic
• Have a family history of heart disease
• Have high blood pressure
• Have high cholesterol
• Are overweight
• Are physically inactive
• Use recreational drugs
For more information on cardiovascular health and heart attacks, visit the American Heart Association at http://www.heart.org.