Risk factors for heart attacks • Long Beach Post

By: Henry Van Gieson, M.D., medical director, Cardiac Care Unit, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Medical Center


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According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, about 610,000 lives are claimed from heart disease annually, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than 525,000 Americans have a heart attack and an additional 210,000 have a subsequent heart attack each year.

While many risk factors for a heart attack are related to a person’s lifestyle, many are related to other medical conditions, even those not “associated” with the heart. Here are some of the most common:

  • Cholesterol
    Cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance in the body. A person’s total cholesterol is measured through an equation including the “good” (HDL) cholesterol, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. The higher someone’s HDL, the lower the chance of a heart attack, while the more LDL and triglycerides increase the risk.

  • Blood Pressure
    Blood pressure measures the amount of force it takes the heart to pump blood through the body. High blood pressure puts great stress on the body’s arteries. Combined with other risk factors this blood pressure stress causes atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which is the underlying condition that causes heart attack and stroke.

  • Diabetes
    People with diabetes have high blood sugar, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. It is important for someone with diabetes to manage and control their blood sugar to reduce their risk.

  • Stroke
    A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is interrupted. When blood flow is interrupted, the brain cells die in that area. If someone has had a previous stroke, they have a higher risk for a heart attack.

  • Preeclampsia
    Preeclampsia is a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy. If a woman has a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy, she will have a higher risk for a heart attack.

  • Autoimmune Disorder
    If a person has an autoimmune disorder, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, they have a higher risk for a heart attack.

Heart Attack Signs

Even if you do not have any of these conditions, it is important to recognize the signs of a heart attack in case you or someone you now is experiencing any of them:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lightheadedness

Know Your Personal Risk

It is important for everyone to know their personal risk for heart disease and take the necessary steps to lead a heart healthy lifestyle. The MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center is hosting its 12th Annual Women’s Heart & Stroke Seminar on Saturday, Feb. 23. Learn your risks through screenings and get information from experts on how to prevent heart disease and stroke.

Men also are welcome to attend this event. Register at (562) 933-0100.

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