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Health Team

Keep weight normal, eat well to help prevent heart attacks

Posted March 14
Updated March 15

More than a million Americans have heart attacks each year, but experts say there are steps to take to greatly reduce the chance of one occurring.

A heart attack is the result of blocked blood flow to the heart muscle. The cause is a build-up of fat, cholesterol or other substances, which form a plaque in the coronary arteries.

Here are some facts you should know about this number-one killer of men and women in this country.

When a heart attack occurs some are all of these symptoms may happen:

–A dull or even squeezing sensation behind your breastbone

–Nausea and vomiting

–Shortness of breath

–Cold sweat

–Fatigue

–Dizziness

Women often have non-classic symptoms, such as neck or jaw pain, and there may be pain radiating down the left arm. Some people describe a sense of impending doom.

Some heart attacks occur suddenly, though many people will have warning signs, such as recurrent chest pain, called angina, which is made worse by exertion and relieved by rest.

Risk factors for a heart attack include age—men over 45 and women over 55—a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, tobacco use and high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, among others.

When a heart attack occurs, abnormal heart rhythms, damage to heart tissue or a ruptured heart valve can all be triggered.

If you think you are experiencing a heart attack, even if you're not sure, call 911 immediately, then take an aspirin to keep your blood from clotting.

Doctors will diagnose a heart attack by looking at the patient's health history. Then, they will us an EKG and blood tests to confirm the presence of a heart attack.

Doctors can also check x-ray, echocardiogram or cardiac catheterization, a dye test injected via an artery in your wrist or groin, to pinpoint areas of blockage in the heart.

The first goal of treatment is to stabilize the patient. Doctors will work to treat any abnormal rhythms and heart pump failure that are life threatening.

In many cases, cardiologists can use a catheter to open up a blocked heart artery and leave a metal stent in to maintain blood flow. In other cases, though, emergency coronary bypass graft surgery may be necessary to open up blocked coronary arteries.

If you are experiencing any kind of chest pain, be sure to visit your doctor, but simple lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce your heart attack risk, such as achieving a normal weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis.

Also, ask you doctor if a daily baby aspirin would be helpful in heart attack and stroke prevention.

Doctors also recommend that people learn CPR. It is estimated that only 4 percent of Wake County residents are certified in CPR, but it could save a life.

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