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How to Prevent Heart Attack

A scary episode characterized by tight chest pains and shortness of breath all too often describes an impending heart attack. In the past, this sort of heart condition was looked upon as the “kiss of death,” as the often-fatal event took many lives mostly because victims did not receive help in time or were unaware of the signs and symptoms associated with an attack. Today, a better awareness, increased education, and more prevention methods have spread, allowing many to survive the dreaded heart attack.

How to Prevent Heart Attack

What is Heart Attack?

A heart attack creates injury to the heart muscle due to a loss in the blood supply reaching the heart. Often, a blood clot blocking the flow of blood through the coronary artery is to blame, as it is the responsibility of this blood vessel to feed blood to the heart muscle. A disruption in blood flow may lead to injury or destruction of the heart. Each year, more than a million people in the United States experience a heart attack – close to half of them dying as a result [1].

While some heart attack victims are able to fully recover, others sustain permanent damage to the heart that may increase their chances of suffering another episode in the future. This is why it is important to recognize the common signs and symptoms of a heart attack in order to make prevention much easier to accomplish. It is also important to make note that not all people will experience the same warning signs, while some do not show any symptoms at all.

Some of the most prominent warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack include shortness of breath; sweating; lightheadedness; fainting; nausea and vomiting; and lingering pain in the upper abdomen. An individual may experience pressure or a “squeezing” pain in the middle of the chest that continues for more than a couple of minutes. Sometimes, the pain travels beyond the chest and reaches the shoulder, arm, back, and in some cases, the teeth and jaw.

A heart attack may strike without forewarning, or exhibit physical alerts that take place hours, days, and sometimes weeks in advance. One of the best predictors pertaining to a heart attack is chest pain (also known as angina) that an individual may experience during exertion and becomes relieved during times of rest [2]. Angina is characterized by a momentary interruption in blood flow to the heart.

The Negative Effects of Heart Attack

While the worst outcome associated with a heart attack is death, the experience is a very scary occurrence to survive. The event often carries long-lasting effects on the victim, as well as their family and friends. This is especially true when complications arise due to heart damage sustained during the attack. Below are some of the negative effects that a heart attack can cause:

a) Physical Complications:

The damage associated with a heart attack can create a series of physical problems that further hamper the health of your heart. Abnormal heart rhythms (referred to as arrhythmias) come from damaged heart muscle that produces an electrical “short circuiting” effect that poses a serious and sometimes fatal response.

When the damaged tissue in the heart is too severe, heart failure may occur when the remaining heart muscle is unable to efficiently pump blood. An increase in blood flow to the other organs and tissues in the body suffers and one may experience shortness of breath, extreme tiredness, swollen ankles and feet. Some recover within a few days to a couple of weeks, while others suffer widespread and unending damage to the heart.

A heart attack may also damage the heart valves, which lead to extreme issues involving leakage. A heart attack may cause parts of the heart muscle to weaken in such as way that a rupture may take place. This occurrence leaves behind a hole in the heart, which is lnown to cause life-threatening bleeding and additional complications.

b) Mental and Emotional Anguish:

Although a doctor may issue a clean bill of health after a heart attack, the experience may cause victims to forever cast doubt on their future wellbeing. Many people are extremely fearful of what may happen once they return to the activities they once enjoyed or go back to work. The anxious thought of another possible heart attack may continue to linger, causing an upset in daily routines. Many different emotions are felt after a heart attack, including anger, resentment, guilt, and the all-too-common lapse into depression. To combat these emotions, it is important to work on building effective coping skills.

c) Sexuality:

After a heart attack, many fear their sex life will change because they believe the activity is too stressful on the heart. However, many individuals are able to return to their normal sexual appetite after recovery, after following an individual timeline. Often, it is the psychological readiness and not a physical limitation that affects concerns regarding sex after a heart attack.

d) High Expenses:

The medical costs associated with a heart attack are known to surpass 60 billion dollars per year, as hospital care, ambulance service, and aftercare bills carry a heavy price tag [3].

Heart Attack Risk Factors

Assessing the risk factors that may affect your chances of suffering from a heart attack is highly suggested because while some are set in stone, such as gender and heredity, others can be influenced by making a few modifications in lifestyle behaviors and habits. Heart attack risk factors include:

a) Gender and Heredity:

While men usually face a greater risk than women in having a heart attack, the risk for women increases after the onset of menopause (typically after the age of 55). Unfortunately, sudden death at the hands of a heart attack is more common amongst women [3].

If your father had heart disease before the age of 55 or your mother suffered heart ailments before the age of 65, then the risk of developing heart disease and possibly suffering a heart attack is greater. It is important to also keep an eye out for early heart attacks that have affected your grandparents, as well as siblings, which often serves as an alert regarding your personal risk.

b) Smoking:

A person who smokes cigarettes, pipes, and other tobacco products (or is constantly exposed to secondhand smoke) increases the damage that occurs within the interior artery walls, which in the long run, affects the heart. Smoking may also lead to the development of life-threatening blood clots, which promotes a heart attack to occur.

c) High Blood Pressure:

High blood pressure is known to damage the arteries by affecting the amount of blood the heart pumps, as well as the amount of blood flow resistance seen in the arteries.

d) High Cholesterol:

Since cholesterol plays a major role in the narrowing of arteries throughout the body, a high level of blood cholesterol affects the supply of blood that reaches the heart. A high amount of low-density lipoprotein (known as LDL and also referred to as “bad” cholesterol) increases the risk of heart attack.

e) Lack of Exercise:

Poor cardiovascular fitness increases the risk of heart attack because an inactive lifestyle plays a role regarding increased blood cholesterol levels. Routine exercise also helps individuals lower their high blood pressure.

f) Diabetes:

Atherosclerosis takes place when plaque accumulates on artery walls. With diabetes, the inability to properly generate or respond to insulin speeds up the damage within the interior of the artery, as well as influences blood cholesterol levels.

g) Obesity:

The risk of suffering a heart attack increases when one possesses a higher proportion of body fat, which greatly contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

h) Stress:

Not only does a high level of stress (including anger) raises blood pressure, but it also triggers voluntary responses to overeat or smoke in an attempt to relieve the tension. It is also the way in which people respond to their stress that increases the chances of a heart attack.

i) Excessive Alcohol Intake:

The risk of heart attack increases when blood pressure and triglyceride levels rise, which often takes place when an individual abuses alcohol.

How to Prevent Heart Attack

You don’t have to wait until you’re 50 to consider heart attack prevention because taking preventative measures at an early age will also help maintain an overall satisfying picture of health. For those who have already experienced an attack of the heart, prevention becomes especially important. Besides medication, there are numerous lifestyle changes and habits one can incorporate into their daily routine in order to prevent heart attacks. Common prevention methods include:

a) Aspirin:

Many have heard that chewing an aspirin at the first signs of a heart attack can prevent the amount of damage sustained, but a doctor may also prescribe aspirin for long-term prevention. Aspirin works because it makes the blood “less sticky,” and discourages blood clots. This is also a commonly recommended form of prevention for those who have already had a heart attack.

In some cases, a stronger blood thinner than aspirin is prescribed. When taking aspirin as a heart attack prevention method, you should know that painkillers, such as Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) increase the risk of developing gastrointestinal problems [4].

b) Prescription Medication:

A doctor may prescribe a range of different medications in an attempt to prevent a heart attack. Some options include beta blockers, which lower the heart rate and blood pressure, thus reducing the demand placed on the heart. Medications that lower cholesterol levels (such as statins, niacin, fibrates and bile acid sequestrants) also help to prevent a heart attack, especially in patients who have already suffered their first.

c) Regular Medical Checkups:

Since the major risk factors concerning a heart attack usually show no symptoms in their early stages, it is important to undergo regular medical checkups to detect the presence of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Once detected, a physician can suggest preventive measures that lessen the risk of the sort of complications that provoke a heart attack to strike. You should also have your blood pressure checked every two years, especially if your family tree shows a history of the condition or past accounts of coronary artery disease.

d) Regular Cholesterol Checks:

Regular blood cholesterol checks are essential, so doctors may prescribe appropriate recommendations for diet and medication that furthers cardiovascular health protection.

e) Quit Smoking:

As soon as you quit smoking, the heart and the rest of the body begins to repair itself, helping to reduce your chances of suffering a heart attack.

f) Exercise:

Regular exercise helps to promote a healthy heart and prevent a heart attack by maintaining a healthy weight and controlling the outside medical factors that threaten your overall health.

g) Stress Management:

Heart attack prevention also includes the management of stress that often surfaces in the activities we attempt to tackle on a day-to-day basis.

h) Alcohol Consumption:

Individuals who drink more than one to two alcoholic beverages per day often raises blood pressure, which places undue stress on the heart. As a rule of thumb, a man who sticks with two drinks and a woman who drinks one during an outing is practicing heart-healthy habits. It is important to remember that one drink is considered 12 ounces of beer; 4 ounces of wine or 1 ½ ounces of an 80-proof liquor. Overall, drinking in moderation helps to prevent future heart attacks.

i) Niacin:

Studies have indicated that patients who receive niacin treatments after a heart attack may prevent a second one from taking place.

j) Vitamin C:

Taking a vitamin C supplement helps to prevent the buildup of atherosclerotic plague in the arteries, which causes heart problems. People with low levels of vitamin C may face a greater risk of suffering a heart attack.

k) Supplements:

A wide-range of supplementary selections is known to help prevent heart attacks when taken on a regular basis. One may choose from a variety of capsules, softgels, tablets, and tea to add to their diet. A few suggestions include alpha lipoic acid (50 to 100 mg capsules); astragalus (tea made with 9 to 15 grams of sliced root); folic acid (400mcg tablets); garlic (1 fresh clove or 600 to 900mg capsules or tablets); ginger (500 to 1,000mg capsules); vitamin B6 (50 to 500mg tablets); vitamin B12 (1,000 to 2,000 mcg tablets); vitamin E (400 IU capsules); betaine (500 to 1,000mg capsules or tablets); and CoQ10 (50 to 150mg softgels) [5].

l) Education:

It is suggested to familiarize oneself with the frequent signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Disregarding common misconceptions are also recommended, as contrary to popular belief, heart attacks can occur at anytime of the day or night. An attack on the heart may take place during times of work or at play – it doesn’t matter if the body is at rest or moving about – a heart attack may suddenly take a life at any moment or take weeks to fully erupt.

Resources

[1] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/heartattack.html
[2] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094/DSECTION=2
[3] http://www.womensheartfoundation.org/content/HeartAttack/heart_attack_facts.asp
[4] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094/DSECTION=9
[5] Solve It With Supplements by Robert Schulman (pgs 474-475)

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