Know Your Risk For Heart Disease
You can take steps to lower your risk for heart disease by changing the factors you can control.
Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans have at least 1 of 3 key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.1
Some risk factors for heart disease cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
What Health Conditions Increase The Risk Of Heart Disease
High blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is a medical condition that happens when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. The high pressure, if not controlled, can affect your heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain.
High blood pressure is often called a silent killer because it usually has no symptoms. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to measure your blood pressure. You can lower your blood pressure with lifestyle changes or with medicine to reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack. Learn more about blood pressure.
Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your bodys needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat.
If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
There are two main types of blood cholesterol: LDL cholesterol, which is considered to be bad cholesterol because it can cause plaque buildup in your arteries, and HDL cholesterol, which is considered to be good cholesterol because higher levels provide some protection against heart disease.
Managing Heart Attack Risk Factors
Here are ways to manage your risks for a heart attack:
- Look at which risk factors apply to you, then take steps to eliminate or reduce them.
- Learn about high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. These may be “silent killers.”
- Change risk factors that aren’t inherited by making lifestyle changes. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out how to do so.
- Talk with your healthcare provider to find out if you have risk factors that can’t be changed. These can be managed with medicine and lifestyle changes.
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Symptoms Can Last For Days
Since many symptoms of a heart attack in women dont include chest pain, theyre often overlooked. Unusual fatigue, nausea, weakness, and other signs may be mistaken for illnesses such as the flu.
Vague symptoms make heart attack harder to identify, but women are also more likely to dismiss or minimize their symptoms in comparison to men. In fact, one study found that women waited 54 hours to seek treatment for heart attack symptoms, compared to men who waited just 16 hours.
If you think you or a loved one is suffering a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Follow the operators instructions and try to take slow, deep breaths until help arrives. Seeking treatment as early as possible increases your chances of a full recovery.
Take Care Of Yourself
Heart disease is preventable. Here are Goldbergs top tips:
- Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease.
- Quit smoking. Did you know that just one year after you quit, youll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent?
- Start an exercise program. Just walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Modify your familys diet if needed. Check out these healthy cooking tips. Youll learn smart substitutions, healthy snacking ideas and better prep methods. For example, with poultry, use the leaner light meat instead of the fattier dark meat , and be sure to remove the skin.
What Are The Four Signs Of An Impending Heart Attack
Some heart attacks are sudden and severe. But most begin slowly with chest discomfort as the first sign. You need to pay attention if you experience the following warning signs of a heart attack. These signs are as suggested by the American Heart Association :
- Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes.
- Sometimes, you may have chest discomfort that goes away and then returns. You may feel uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
Discomfort in other areas of the upper body.
- You feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, and jaw. You may also get a stomachache.
Shortness of breath.
- You may suffer from shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
Other possible signs include
Recovering From A Heart Attack
The time it takes to recover from a heart attack will depend on the amount of damage to your heart muscle.
Most people can return to work after having a heart attack. Some people are well enough to return to work after 2 weeks. Other people may take several months to recover. How quickly you can go back to work depends on your health, the state of your heart and the type of work you do.
The recovery process aims to:
- reduce your risk of another heart attack through a combination of lifestyle changes , and medicines , which help to lower blood cholesterol levels
- gradually restore your physical fitness so you can resume normal activities
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What Should I Do If I Think Im Having A Heart Attack
The first thing you must do is dial 999 immediately for an ambulance. Dont worry if youre not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, its really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible.
Next, you should:
- take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within arms reach
- stay calm and wait for the paramedics.
People often dismiss that theyre having a heart attack and will delay seeking medical attention. If youre with someone whos experiencing heart attack symptoms but theyre putting off or refusing to call an ambulance, its really important that you call one for them.
What Are The Atypical Presentation Signs
In an atypical presentation, the signs and symptoms are different. How? The patient may not complain about pain or pressure in the chest. Be alert for the following:
- A sharp or knife-like pain that occurs with coughing or breathing
- Pain that spreads above the jawbone or into the lower body
- Difficult or labored breathing
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What Are The Heart Attack Risk Factors
These are the general heart attack risk factors. Discuss your risk with your doctor.
- Chest pain, pressure, burning, aching or tightness – it may come and go
- A family history of cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Using tobacco products
- Metabolic disease, diabetes or other illnesses
- For women, risk factors can include birth control pills, a history of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or having a low birth weight baby
Catch The Signs Early
Dont wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Download the common heart attack warning signs infographic |
Take Your Medicines As Prescribed
Medicines can help protect your heart and lower the risk of future heart problems.
Its important to know which heart medicines you are taking, what they are for and the possible side effects to look out for. For more information about your heart medicines, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
Always talk to your doctor before taking any other medicines that you buy over the counter. Over-the-counter medicines are medicines you can buy from a pharmacy, supermarket or health food shop without a prescription. Many over-the-counter medicines can interact with your heart medicines.
Waiting For The Ambulance
If someone has had a heart attack, it’s important they rest while waiting for the ambulance. They should avoid unnecessary strain on the heart.
If you have aspirin, give them an adult-sized tablet while waiting for the ambulance. They should slowly chew and swallow the tablet. Do not give them aspirin if they are allergic to it.
The aspirin helps to thin the blood and restore the heart’s blood supply.
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How Are Heart Attacks Treated
Treating a heart attack means restoring blood flow to the affected heart muscle as soon as possible. This can happen in a variety of ways, ranging from medication to surgery. Its extremely likely that treatment will use several of the following methods.
People having trouble breathing or with low blood oxygen levels often receive supplementary oxygen along with other heart attack treatments. You can breathe the oxygen either through a tube that sits just below your nose or a mask that fits over your nose and mouth. This increases the amount of oxygen circulating in the blood and reduces the strain on your heart.
- Anti-clotting medications: This includes aspirin and other blood-thinning medicines.
- Nitroglycerin: This medicine relieves chest pain and causes blood vessels to widen so blood can pass through more easily.
- Thrombolytic medications: Providers use these only within the first 12 hours after a heart attack.
- Anti-arrhythmia medications: Heart attacks can often cause malfunctions in your hearts normal beating rhythm called arrhythmias, which can be life-threatening. Anti-arrhythmia medications can stop or prevent these malfunctions.
- Pain medications: The most common pain medication given during heart attack care is morphine. This can help alleviate chest pain.
Percutaneous coronary intervention
Coronary artery bypass grafting
Are You Finding It Hard To Get Medical Help
We know that many of you are experiencing delays to treatment at this time, or have questions and concerns about getting medical help. We’ve created this set of information to help you with these issues.
If you are having emergency heart attack symptoms, do not wait for an appointment and call 999 immediately.
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Medicines For Heart Attack
To treat your heart attack in the ambulance or hospital, your doctor may prescribe a medicine called thrombolysis .
Thrombolysis is a treatment to dissolve blood clots that are narrowing or blocking a coronary artery. The clot-busting medicine is given to you through a drip. Dissolving the clot improves blood flow to your heart muscle and around your body.
To reduce the risk of future heart attacks, your doctor will also start you on medicines while youre recovering in hospital. You will need to continue taking these over the long-term.
Its very important to keep taking your medicines unless your doctor or cardiologist tells you to stop. Have regular check-ups with your doctor so they can review your medicines and adjust them as needed.
Commonly prescribed medicines after a heart attack include:
- antithrombotic medicines like anticoagulants and antiplatelets to reduce the risk of blood clots forming
- beta blockers to lower blood pressure and regulate your heart rate and rhythm
- blood pressure medicines like angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers to make it easier for your heart to pump blood and lower blood pressure by widening your blood vessels
- cholesterol-modifying medicines to reduce your cholesterol levels.
Diagnosing A Heart Attack
A heart attack is a medical emergency. Diagnosis and treatment can start in the ambulance.
Once you get to the hospital, further tests will be performed to confirm a heart attack.
These tests will also measure the amount of damage to your heart and what treatment you need. Tests to diagnose a heart attack include:
- electrocardiogram to measure the electrical activity of your heart
- blood tests including a troponin test to measure levels of enzymes released into the blood when the heart muscle is damaged
- coronary angiogram a long, thin tube is inserted into an artery in your wrist . The catheter is threaded through the artery until it reaches your heart. A special dye is then injected into the catheter and an X-ray is taken. The X-ray shows where the coronary arteries are blocked.
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What Can I Do To Recover After A Heart Attack
Take our quiz to see how much you know about cardiac rehabilitation.
If youve had a heart attack, your heart may be damaged. This could affect your hearts rhythm and its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease .
You can lower your chances of having future health problems following a heart attack with these steps:
- Physical activityTalk with your health care team about the things you do each day in your life and work. Your doctor may want you to limit work, travel, or sexual activity for some time after a heart attack.
- Lifestyle changesEating a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, and managing stressin addition to taking prescribed medicinescan help improve your heart health and quality of life. Ask your health care team about attending a program called cardiac rehabilitation to help you make these lifestyle changes.
- Cardiac rehabilitationCardiac rehabilitation is an important program for anyone recovering from a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problem that required surgery or medical care. Cardiac rehab is a supervised program that includes
- Physical activity
- Education about healthy living, including healthy eating, taking medicine as prescribed, and ways to help you quit smoking
- Counseling to find ways to relieve stress and improve mental health
Different Heart Attack Signs In Men And Women
Heart attack symptoms can be different in men and women. Why does it matter? Women are less likely to seek immediate medical care and are more likely to die. Differences include:
- Men normally feel pain and numbness in the left arm or side of the chest, but in women, these symptoms may appear on the right side.
- Women may feel completely exhausted, drained, dizzy or nauseous.
- Women may feel upper back pain that travels up into the jaw.
- Women may think their stomach pain is the flu, heartburn or an ulcer.
Why Is Plaque So Important
Plaques, or fatty deposits, can build up in the arteries to cause atherosclerosis. The reason we care about plaques is that they can rupture in unstable situations. When a plaque ruptures, a fragment of the plaque breaks off from the inside lining of the artery and travels with the blood flow downstream into a smaller artery.
If a plaque gets stuck in a smaller artery, its like a big boulder in a creek, stopping all downstream flow of oxygenated blood through that channel, killing heart cells that are fed with that blood flow. Thats what creates the chest pain we know as a heart attack dying heart cells.
Save A Life With Hands
The use of hands-only CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, can be instrumental in saving the life of someone having a heart attack. If you believe someone is having a heart attack:
Learn more at .
Eighty-five percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack. EHAC is knowing the subtle danger signs of a heart attack and acting upon them immediately before heart damage occurs.
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Testing: What To Expect
The hours following a heart attack can be scary and confusing. Your medical team may be incredibly busy and focused, and hard-pressed to explain everything thats happening.
You and your caregivers are sure to have questions. You may wonder about the tests and procedures that are being performed.
In the section below, youll find descriptions of the kinds of diagnostic procedures you may encounter as your doctors strive to identify the underlying causes of your heart attack.
How To Reduce Heart Attack Risk
An important step in reducing your heart attack risk is to get on top of your heart health and speak to your doctor about having an annual heart health check. This may involve discussing your family history then measuring your blood pressure, blood sugar and total cholesterol levels. Unhealthy levels of these can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack, but they may not show any visible symptoms.
Making positive lifestyle changes to decrease your risk factors is another key step in reducing the risk of heart attack. Even small changes can have a positive impact on your risk. These can include maintaining a healthy weight through a heart-healthy diet and lowering alcohol intake, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and taking steps to manage blood pressure levels as well as to lower cholesterol levels. Speak to your doctor about what changes you can make.
Reduce your risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease by making positive lifestyle changes like being more active and eating a healthier diet. Images: Pexels
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