Understanding a Heart Attack

If you or a loved one has ever experienced a heart attack you understand how difficult it is to navigate the aftermath. You wonder why it happened, what could’ve been done to prevent it, and what you can do moving forward. The experience in its entirety is overwhelming. If you haven’t experienced a heart attack, it’s important to know what the risk factors are and what role you can play in prevention.

Heart Attack 101

If you picture someone having a heart attack in your mind, what do you see? Many see an image of a man clutching their chest, grimacing from intense pain, that is the case sometimes. However, in many cases you can have a heart attack and show no symptoms, all the while your chances for heart failure are increased. This is why the heart attack is known as the silent killer, the damage is done and you’re not even aware of it in that moment.

According to the CDC, approximately 805,000 people in the United States have a heart attack each year. Breaking down that number further reveals 605,000 are a first heart attack and 200,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack previously. Did you know that heart attacks are the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States?

A heart attack happens when a loss of blood supply to the heart takes place. This happens when there is a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries which prevents the heart from receiving the oxygen and nutrients needed to function. It is during this time that damage to the heart muscle occurs.

Keep in mind that not all heart attacks are the same, and they don’t all feel the same. Many can start slowly, and a mild discomfort or pain can be felt in the chest. There can also be discomfort in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach. In some cases, nausea, shortness of breath, cold sweats, or lightheadedness can be felt. When symptoms occur it’s important to call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.

There are a variety of risk factors that may have or can contribute to future heart attacks. These risk factors include all manner of things from medical conditions to lifestyle to demographics. In honor of heart health month, we’re highlighting some of the most common risk factors and prevention tips.

Common Risk Factors

According to the CDC, although anyone can get skin cancer, there are individuals with certain characteristics that put them at higher risk including but not limited to:

• Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels – Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your body’s needs; however, we often get more cholesterol from the various foods we eat. Different food items have varied levels of cholesterol. If you consume more cholesterol than your body can use, it can build up in the walls of your arteries, including coronary arteries. Over time this leads to narrowing of the arteries and blood flow is decreased to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, brain and more. It’s important to know there are two main types of cholesterol. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) which is considered as “bad” cholesterol as it can cause plaque buildup in the arteries. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) which is considered “good” cholesterol and higher levels actually provide some protection against heart disease/heart attack.

• High Blood Pressure – High blood pressure happens when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. When left untreated, the pressure can affect not only your heart, but also other major organs.

• Obesity – Obesity is a condition characterized by excessive or abnormal fat accumulation. Obesity is linked to higher LDL(bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it’s also linked to lower HDL(good) cholesterol levels. It can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

• Diabetes – A disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, this results in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and levels of glucose in the blood and urine. Diabetes causes sugar to build up in the blood, the risk of death from heart disease/heart attack can be increased substantially.

Other factors that increase risk of heart attack include behaviors/lifestyle habits like not getting enough sleep, tobacco use, excessive alcohol use, etc. Genetics and family history also play a role in increasing risk factors, so be sure to be aware of your family history.

Preventative Measures and Pro-Activity

Some things you can do to be proactive against heart attack and heart disease include healthy eating habits with plenty of heart healthy foods incorporated into your diet. Daily exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, getting good quality sleep and stress management. Talk to the doctors at Suntree Internal Medicine about testing for cholesterol, blood pressure and heart health. If it is determined you require a prescription, they will explain why you need it and how it helps. Our compassionate and knowledgeable team works with you every step of the way. Call us today to make an appointment or fill out the form on our SuntreeInternalMedicine.com