Xi Damrell, MD
What you need to know regarding the cause, symptoms, and prevention. It is Kaweah Delta’s monthly goal to promote awareness of concerning health issues, for the month of February we will address Cardiovascular Disease.
What is a heart attack?
The heart, like all organs in the body, needs a blood supply. Blood vessels supply the blood to the heart. These vessels are called coronary arteries. If a blood vessel gets blocked and the blood supply is cut off, the heart muscle will be damaged. This damage is what is commonly called a heart attack, known to doctors and other medical professionals as a myocardial infarction.
What causes the blockage that leads to a heart attack?
Cholesterols can built up on the coronary arteries forming “plaque.” Plaque might be compared to deposits formed over time in our water pipes. This process of building up plaque deposits started in childhood. Problems occur when the plaques in the coronary arteries break open. When this happens, a blood clot forms and blocks the coronary artery.
What are the signs of a heart attack?
Commonly, a person will have pain in or pressure on the chest. But there might pain in other parts of the body, such as the neck, back, arm, and jaw. And if a person is diabetic, they might not be able to feel any pain.
Another common sign of a heart attack is that a person might have shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, have clammy skin or they break out into a cold sweat. A person might also feel that the heart is beating fast or that the beat is not regular.
The most important thing you can do if you suspect that you or someone else is having a heart attack is to call 911. Do not drive yourself to the hospital.
How you prevent a heart attack?
Medical research over the past decades has improved our understanding of what causes heart attacks and how to prevent them. The risk factors (things that increase the likelihood of a heart attack) include:
• Having High LDL and low HDL
• LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. It is what people refer to when they say “bad cholesterol.” It is bad because it can deposit itself on the walls of our arteries and built up plaque.
• HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. It is what we call “good cholesterol.” It is good because it helps to prevent the build-up of cholesterol plaque in the arteries. It returns the cholesterol to the liver, and from there cholesterol is removed from the body.
• Having High blood pressure
• Having Diabetes
• Being a post-menopausal woman
• Having family members who had heart attacks
• Being obese
To know if you are at risk, the following are the questions you can ask your doctor on your next visit: Is my blood sugar normal? If not, do I need medications? Is my blood pressure in the normal range? If not, is it being treated to the goal? How is my cholesterol? Is my bad cholesterol low enough? Do I have enough good cholesterol? Let your doctor be your coach in combating heart disease.
Things you can do on your own to prevent heart attack:
Make sure your blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood cholesterol are in the good range. Quit smoking. Eat a healthy diet and exercise often. Healthy lifestyles will delay the progression of plaque. However, you do not have to eat like a rabbit or live in the gym. A few small changes can make a big difference. For example, eat more fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid salty food and fatty foods. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, or take a brisk stroll after dinner. Just 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week is enough to lower both cholesterol and high blood pressure.
If you would like to read more about your risk factors for heart attack, here is a link to the American Heart Association website: http://www.heart.org/.
Dr. Xi Damrell is a Class of 2018 Graduate Medical Education (GME) Emergency Medicine resident physician.