Coronary Heart Disease and Heart Attack
Coronary heart disease is a narrowing of the blood vessels feeding
the heart. It occurs when cholesterol and debris form a sticky substance
(plaque) along sections of the inner arterial wall. Over time, the
accumulating plaque can build and clog the flow of the blood. Soft areas
of plaque are also prone to rupture, spilling the plaque contents into
the bloodstream. The body senses this as an injury and sends cells to
clot (seal) the leakage. The clot can then block the flow blood through
the affected artery.
A heart attack is the death of a section of heart muscle due to a
lack of oxygenated blood (i.e., the blockage of an artery). The American
Heart Association estimates more than 1.25 million Americans will have a
heart attack this year. The average age at the time for a first heart
attack is about 64 for men and 70 for women.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in this
country, killing about 406,351 men and women in 2007. It accounts for
one out of every six deaths. Those who survive are at a much higher risk
of having another heart attack or of developing heart failure and
Heart Attack Warning: Atypical Signs
Many people associate a heart attack with sudden, severe chest pain. Classically, the PAIN
centers in the chest and may be described as a constant or intermittent
pressure, squeezing or fullness. However, many are not aware that a
heart attack can cause other symptoms, such as PAIN or discomfort in other areas of the body (one or both arms, the neck, back, JAW or stomach), shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness or breaking out in a cold sweat.
Women are much less likely than men to have the classic signs of an
impending heart attack. In fact, one study reports 21 percent of women
having a heart attack had no chest pain. Instead, these women were more
likely to have JAW pain,
indigestion, nausea, unusual fatigue (which may be of a long duration),
shortness of breath, back pain, palpitations, sleep problems and
numbness of the hands.
Crystal Vliek, M.D., Cardiologist with Union Memorial Hospital in
Baltimore, MD, says patients who are not having classic signs of a heart
attack may dismiss their symptoms and delay getting emergency
treatment. In fact, Vliek's seen patients with JAW PAIN who make appointments with their dentist, only to be referred for medical evaluation when no dental problems are found.
Vliek says patients know their bodies best. If they don't feel
right, or they suspect they are having heart-related symptoms, they
should call 911 and get help right away. The longer the blockage
remains, the more damage to the heart and the less likelihood of a good
Research compiled and edited by Barbara J. Fister
AUDIENCE INQUIRYIf you think you may be having a
heart attack, or are uncertain about the cause of your symptoms, call
911 or your family health care provider.
For general information on coronary heart disease and heart attacks:
American Heart Association, http://www.heart.org
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov
BIBLIOGRAPHYIf you need a list of the research titles supporting this story, please contact Barbara Fister at (610) 395-1300 ext. 238.
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