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For Your Heart Health Archive

The Heart Attack: What to Do….

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is interrupted. Oxygen cannot get to the heart muscle, causing tissue damage or tissue death.

What causes a heart attack?

A heart attack is caused by the following:

  • Thickening of the walls of the arteries feeding the heart muscle (coronary arteries)
  • Accumulation of fatty plaques in the coronary arteries
  • Narrowing of the coronary arteries
  • Spasm of the coronary arteries
  • Development of a blood clot in the coronary arteries
  • Embolism that affects the coronary arteries

What about risk factors?

The following risk factors increase your chances of developing a heart attack:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High blood cholesterol (specifically, high LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol)
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Family members with heart disease

What are the symptoms?

  • Squeezing, heavy chest pain behind the breast bone, especially with:
    • Exercise or exertion
    • Emotional stress
    • Cold weather
    • A large meal
    • Usually comes on quickly
    • Pain in left shoulder, left arm, or jaw
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sweating, clammy skin
    • Nausea
    • Weakness
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Anxiety, especially feeling a sense of doom or panic without apparent reason

Unusual symptoms of heart attack (may occur more frequently in women):

  • Stomach pain
  • Back and shoulder pain
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

If you think you are having a heart attack call for medical help right away. Dial 911. Do not try to drive yourself to the hospital. Follow the directions of the dispatcher on the other side of the phone.

Preventing Heart Attacks

Health and medical experts have concluded through research that a diet based on fruits, oil bearing nuts, vegetables, legumes and whole grains simply prepared and eaten regularly give the best results for heart attack prevention. In addition to proper dieting it is important to exercise at least three times a week for 40 minutes on each occasion to maintain a healthy heart.

Cardiologists, doctors, nutritionists and other experts say that you have the power to cut your risk of having a heart attack. Instead of looking for the latest quick fix, however, focus your preventative efforts on what’s already been proven. For starters, that means changing your diet. There are more dos than don’ts. For example, get a tablespoon of olive oil a day either with sautéed vegetables or a salad and frequently eat low mercury fish, which is high in omega 3 fatty acids that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A few eggs a week are no longer forbidden. Neither is meat if you’re eating a lean, four to six ounce cuts. The same goes for nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts as long as they’re not demolishing a Costco sized container in two days.

A little portion control goes a long way towards helping you keep your weight in check. Many experts recommend that couples eating out order separate salads or shrimp cocktails and split an entrée. When cooking, don’t just dump half a bag of rice into the pot. Measure it. Aim to always leave something on the plate. Many nutritionists advise “If you can leave a few bites on the plate, you’ve created a barrier between you and the food. You’re still satisfied but you’re not so completely full that you have to unbutton your pants.”

Very important – consistently get a good night’s rest. When you stress yourself you’re throwing off your biological clock, causing adrenaline to surge and raising blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attacks.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, or AFIb, is the most common type of arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm.

AFIb occurs if rapid, disorganized electrical signals cause the heart's two upper chambers— the atria - to fibrillate, or contract very fast and irregularly.  When a person is in AFIb, blood pools in the atria and it is not pumped completely into the heart's two lower chambers, called the ventricles.   As a result, the heart's upper and lower chambers don't work together as they should.

Symptoms of AFIb

AFIb may be brief with symptoms that come and go or it may be ongoing and require treatment.  Symptoms of AFIb include:

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Faintness or confusion
  • Fatigue when exercising
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure (if experiencing chest pain, call 9-1-1 immediately)

People who have AFIb may not feel symptoms. However, even when AFIB isn't noticed, it can increase the risk of stroke and it can cause chest pain or heart failure, especially if the heart rhythm is very rapid.

Treatments for AFib

There are a variety of treatment options for AFIb.  Treatment options may include:

You course of treatment will depend on such factors as your diagnosis and medical history.  Please consult with your physician on diagnosis and best treatment options.