You’re never too young to start taking good care of your heart. “Green Mile” actor Michael Clarke Duncan was just 54 when we died of complications from a heart attack, Monday. Rosie O’Donnell was treated for a heart attack at age 50.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not very unusual for people to have heart disease in their fifties. After accidents (such as car crashes), heart disease is the most common killer of men between the ages of 35 and 44. It is also the number one killer of men 45 to 54 years old. The American Heart Association now recommends that people start heart disease prevention as early as twenty years old.
The majority of people think chest pain is the most common symptom, but many people having a heart attack will actually say: “It’s not pain.” It’s a pressure or a squeezing sensation or the feeling that an elephant is sitting on their chest. Other common symptoms of a heart attack include discomfort that radiates into arms, shoulder, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea, or a feeling of indigestion.
As Rosie O’Donnell experienced, female heart attack victims often show different symptoms than men. The American Heart Association says an estimated 400,000 women die every year of heart disease, which is ten times more than the number of women who die of breast cancer annually. The symptoms of a heart attack can be very different for women. They may very well have chest discomfort, but it isn’t as common. Instead, women may complain more of weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and even anxiety.
What is interesting is that women are actually less likely to seek help. A 2010 study ordered by the American Heart Association found only 53 percent of women surveyed would call 9-1-1 if they thought they were having heart attack symptoms. Meanwhile, most women don’t even know that heart disease is a major threat to women. The study found that there was also a racial divide. About 60 percent of white women surveyed knew that a heart attack was the leading cause of death among women. On the other hand, only about 43 percent of African American women, 44 percent of Latina women, and 34 percent of Asian American women knew that.
As for treatment, patients usually have an electrocardiogram done right away. Certain treatments may be started if a heart attack is suspected, and even before the diagnosis is confirmed. These include oxygen therapy, aspirin to thin the blood and prevent further blood clotting, and nitroglycerin to reduce the heart’s workload and improve blood flow through the coronary arteries. Once the diagnosis of a heart attack is confirmed or strongly suspected, doctors start treatments to try to promptly restore blood flow to the heart. The two main treatments are “clot-busting” medicines and angioplasty, a procedure used to open blocked coronary arteries.
Three major uncontrollable risk factors for heart attacks are older age, family history of heart disease, and being male. Other symptoms include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and cigarette smoking. Fortunately, these can all be reduced by lifestyle changes or medication.
So, what are some other steps people can do to reduce their risk of heart attack? The build up of plaque in the arteries cause many heart problems, which makes it harder to deliver blood to heart muscle. Exercising three days a week, eating a diet low in saturated fats, and losing weight can all help. Reducing stress and quitting smoking will be difference makers, as well. Take Michael Clarke Duncan, for example. He became a vegetarian three years ago and said he felt significantly better as a result.
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