Like any other organ, the heart depends on a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood to keep it functioning properly. If the blood supply is impeded or interrupted, the heart sends out “warning signals” and spasms that indicate it’s in trouble. These warning signals constitute a heart attack. Heart attacks that cause the heart to suddenly stop beating normally are sometimes referred to as cardiac arrest. Most heart attacks are caused by blocked or narrowed arteries that can’t supply the heart with a normal supply of blood. Sometimes, a heart attack can be caused by spasms in the arteries, a condition known as Prinzmetal angina.
Heart attacks can cause different symptoms in different people and symptoms can also vary between men and women. Some of the more common symptoms include:
pressure or “squeezing” in the chest
pain in the back, belly, neck, shoulder or jaw
pain radiating down the left arm
faintness or dizziness
nausea or vomiting
shortness of breath
Studies have linked several factors with an increased risk for heart attack, including:
high blood pressure
obesity or being overweight
leading a sedentary lifestyle
prior history of heart attack
family history of heart problems
personal history of sleep apnea
stress, especially chronic stress
The best way to prevent a heart attack is to schedule an office visit with a cardiologist to determine which risk factors are present and make lifestyle changes when possible to decrease those risk factors. Having routine screenings for blood pressure and cholesterol levels, undergoing a baseline heart evaluation at age 40 (or sooner for those with risk factors), losing excess weight, quitting smoking and being more physically active can all help decrease the risk of heart attacks. It’s also very important to schedule an office visit if any unusual symptoms like chest pain, palpitations or shortness of breath are noted.
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