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Preventing Heart Attacks

When I wake up in the morning and start my day, I allow myself to get busy with routines and responsibilities. I interact with folks on the job and when I come home, I do the same with my family. By the time I go to bed, it is only to wake up and start the routine all over again. 

The one thing I don’t do is think about whether or not I will have a heart attack. But get this: in the United States almost 800,000 heart attacks happen every year. And it isn’t just the older folks. Unfortunately, younger people, let’s say less than fifty years old, can also have a heart attack. 

The most common cause is build up of plaque in the blood vessels. This narrows the passageway for blood flow. Sometimes these damaged pathways get clogged. The surrounding muscle area of the heart will begin to die since blood flow does not deliver oxygen and the other nutrients needed. And this is a heart attack. 

What are the symptoms of a heart attack? The most familiar is pain in the middle of the chest and occasionally on the left side of the chest. Other symptoms include shortness of breath and general discomfort in the upper part of the body. (1)

When women have heart attacks, their symptoms may look a little different than men. Their symptoms may include pain in the back, jaw, neck or throat: indigestion, heartburn, nausea and/or vomiting, and/or they become extremely tired. (2) Women may also experience silent heart attacks or attacks when the symptoms are not as clear. Both men and women should talk to their doctors if they have experienced any of these symptoms. In the future, if anyone ever experiences these symptoms, call 911 right away.

Is there anything we can do to prevent them? Here are common habits that increase our risk (3): 

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Low intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Increased fat storage on and around the stomach
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels
  • Stressing

The best way to prevent a heart attack is to put a health plan in place. Talking with a family practice physician is a good place to begin developing a healthy heart plan for the whole family.  From there we can tackle areas of risk. For some it may include medication to keep cholesterol or blood pressure under control. Registered dietitians can help develop a plan to eat heart healthy foods. Exercise specialists can help develop a physical activity program for the whole family. And psychologists can teach us effective ways to cope with stress. Why not start today to create a plan to keep hearts healthy?

References: 

1. Heart Attack. www.medlineplus.gov. Accessed March 23, 2019.

2. Heart Attack Symptoms. www.womenshealth.gov. Accessed March 23, 2019.

3. Cause of Most Heart Attacks Found. www.webmd.com. Accessed March 23, 2019.

Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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