The heart is the one of the most-discussed organs of the body, and for good reason. It is responsible for pumping blood throughout the entire circulatory system and is one of the most vulnerable organs we possess.
When treated well with a good diet, plenty of exercise, and no smoking, it has the potential to remain healthy throughout our lives. But when treated badly with smoking, unhealthy foods, and a sedentary lifestyle, the chances of heart disease rapidly increase.
A myocardial infarction (otherwise known as a heart attack) is typically caused by a combination of unhealthy lifestyle choices over a long period of time. A heart attack occurs when one or more of the arteries pumping blood to the heart become blocked from a buildup of cholesterol or other substances.
While there was once a time that they were often fatal, today’s U.S. victims usually survive heart attacks.
Know The Symptoms
One way to avoid fatality from a heart attack is to know the symptoms. Early symptoms can occur days or even weeks before the individual will notice that something is seriously wrong. The earliest sign will usually be recurring chest pain after physical exertion that is relieved with rest. Fluid retention and extreme fatigue are also early warning signs.
Unlike the heart attacks depicted in movies or on TV, the heart attack itself can occur over several hours as the heart tissue is deprived of blood. In the beginning stages, it’s normal for victimes to brush off the symptoms as “nothing” in order to avoid embarrassment if they raise a false alarm. However, in the case of a heart attack, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Every minute counts.
If you can seek help soon enough, the damage to the heart will be minimal and much more likely to recover.
If the victim overrides the early warning signs and even the active heart attack symptoms, eventually their breathing will become more difficult, a tingling sensation will emanate into their left arm and shoulder, and a strong feeling of pressure will become overwhelming on the left side of the chest.
At this point, the victim may become sweaty, light-headed, and nauseous.
Know The Risk Factors
Many doctors believe that, while congenital heart disease can happen, keeping the heart healthy is more about lifestyle than any other factor. Eating a balanced diet, reducing extreme stressors, and remaining active are the three biggest contributors to the overall health of your heart.
The following are some factors that increase the chances of suffering a heart attack:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High stress levels
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history
Know The Treatment Options
Heart attacks are nothing to “wait and see.” At the first inclination of a heart attack, it’s imperative to call 9-1-1 immediately. If the victim has been prescribed nitroglycerin, they should take it as instructed while waiting on emergency services to arrive.
It’s important to note that heart attacks can trigger sudden cardiac arrest, which adds a level of seriousness and increased risk for fatality. It’s always best to stay on the side of caution when dealing with heart attack symptoms.
After arriving at the hospital, the victim will likely receive medication or go into surgery (or both). Medical professionals will be keen to restore blood flow as quickly as possible to keep the heart tissue alive.
Depending upon the patient’s history and the severity of the heart attack, different medications may be prescribed. They range from aspirin (to prevent clotting), thrombolytics, super aspirins, nitroglycerin, or beta blockers.
The two most common types of surgeries for heart attacks are:
- Coronary Angioplasty – typically done immediately to open blocked arteries.
- Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery – typically done after recovery from the heart attack after it has had time to regain strength and bypasses the blocked arteries with healthy blood vessels taken from a different part of the patient’s body.
Often, rehabilitation includes new medications and lifestyle changes.
Prevention Is Key
Knowing the risk factors is the first step in preventing a heart attack. Be sure you are maintaining a healthy lifestyle, limiting alcohol, and refraining from (or quitting) smoking.
Visit your doctor regularly for checkups and get your cholesterol checked regularly. Talk to your doctor about taking blood thinners, beta blockers, or cholesterol-lowering medications as a preventive measure.
Stay active, keep stress levels bearable, and make healthy food choices every day.
Keep in mind that, while most heart attack victims now survive in the United States, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the country. In fact, someone dies from heart disease every 46 seconds.
With the level of research available, free and discounted community programs to keep older adults active and healthy, and our medical advances, heart disease can be deterred.
It only takes one heart attack to remind us of our human vulnerabilities. It’s important to make the choice to live a healthy lifestyle right now to avoid dealing with devastating heart disease later. No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s never too late to make the decision to change your lifestyle so you can spend many more years with friends and loved ones.
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