New drugs can stop or limit the damage of a heart attack, but only
if the patient gets help immediately, experts say. Once the
flow of blood to a portion of the heart is blocked for several
hours, the damage is irreversible.
Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack, which can be wide-ranging
and confusing, is extremely important. So is knowing risk
factors, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and family
Typical symptoms of a heart attack include a crushing pain in the
chest, sweating, difficulty breathing, weakness and pain in the
arms, particularly the left. Symptoms one could attribute to
something else can cause devastating delays in seeking treatment.
These include feelings of indigestion, back shoulder and neck pain
and nausea. Early signs of trouble may appear during physical
activity and disappear with rest. Any numbness of tingling of
the fingers or toes, dizziness, shortness of breath or difficulty in
breathing should not be ignored.
Clinical studies, laboratory investigations and a number of surveys
show certain personal characteristics and life-styles pointing to
increased danger of heart attack. These danger signs are
called "risk factors." These well established risk
factors are high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, cigarette
smoking and diabetes mellitus.
at modifying risk factors most certainly have contributed to the
declining death rate from heart attacks in the United States.
the 1960's, U.S. death rates from heart attacks were still rising,
but today's figures show that heart attacks have fallen
dramatically. And, overall, heart-related problems have
declined about 25 percent in the last decade. This decrease
undoubtedly is due to better medical care of heart attack victims,
but it is likely that a sizable percentage is related to
modification of risk factors.
Medical technology is advancing at an increasingly rapid rate.
More drugs and medical technology are available than ever before and
the entire population is now more aware of the seriousness of heart
attacks. There has been an increased interest in learning CPR
and many community organizations now offer this valuable training.
particular concern by doctors and researchers is the role that the
American diet plays in the health of one's heart. Obesity
predisposes individuals to coronary heart disease. Some of the
reasons for this are known, but others are not. The major
causes of obesity in Americans are excessive intake of calories and
inadequate exercise. When caloric intake is excessive, some of
the excess frequently is saturated fat, which further raises the
blood cholesterol. Thus, obesity contributes to higher
coronary risk in a variety of ways.
Many of the major risk factors for a heart attack are silent and
much of the responsibility for their detection lies with each of us
as individuals. Regular checkups are particularly necessary if
there is a family history of heart attacks of heart disease, high
blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or diabetes.