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What You Need to Know About Heart Disease

What You Need to Know About Heart Disease

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. But, not every heart attack looks the same. In fact, one in five attacks are “silent,” meaning damage was done but the affected individual is not aware of it.

According to Dr. Eric Leser, an Emergency Medicine physician at Riverside Medical Center, the signs and symptoms of heart attack often depend on age, gender, and any other medical conditions one might have.

For example, he states that younger people, specifically younger males, typically end up having the “classic” symptoms—crushing chest pain, radiating to the jaw or arm—whereas females and senior citizens often experience more gradual, vague symptoms.

“A lot of times people come in with this vague feeling of nausea, some dizziness, generalized upper stomachache, feeling of unwell, tingling in their face or left arm, and these are all worrisome signs of a heart attack as well,” notes Dr. Leser. “But, men can have these symptoms too. This isn’t something that follows a cookbook approach, unfortunately.”

Don’t Wait—Why You Need to Act Immediately

If you or a loved one suspects a heart attack, Dr. Leser advises calling 9-1-1 immediately and waiting for the ambulance to arrive—as opposed to driving to the hospital yourself. This is because treatment for cardiac issues start when the paramedics get to your door. They are able to start reversing physical effects of the heart attack and address pain within seconds of starting an IV.

“Our entire process, from the minute you call the ambulance, is streamlined to get you to either myself, the ER doctor, or the cardiologist as quickly as possible,” says Dr. Leser. “Depending on the technology available, we can have the EKG before the patient hits the door, and I, in turn, can give that to the cardiologist so they can be looking at the EKG when the patient is still ten minutes away.”

Diagnosing a Heart Attack

The diagnostic process for heart attack varies depending on the severity of symptoms. For example, if someone has been having chest pains but it’s not certain to be heart-related, a cardiologist will typically perform a stress test. This can either be in the form of an exercise stress test or a chemical stress test, which involves putting EKG leads on the patient and having them walk on the treadmill to evaluate how their heart responds to stress.

“That would be one end of the spectrum. But, all the way on the other end of the spectrum, our cardiac catheterization lab is fully equipped to do a cardiac cath, where the cardiologist essentially squirts dye into the arterial system while taking a real time x-ray of the arteries in the heart,” explains Dr. Leser. “They then see how well this dye gets through the arteries and are able to locate the occlusion and insert a stent.”

Prevention Goes a Long Way

While recognizing the signs and symptoms of heart attack can save lives, individuals can also do so much for their own health by taking preventative measures. Lifestyle management steps such as weight loss, hypertension and diabetes control, and smoking cessation all have profoundly positive impacts on your cardiovascular health. Genetics do play a role, so investigate your family history as well.

Dr. Leser also strongly recommends individuals have a primary care doctor. “No football team is going anywhere without a quarterback. You need somebody quarterbacking your health, and even physicians themselves need doctors, their own doctors. So, have a doctor. Make your follow-up appointments. If your doctor is trying to get you to go in for some specialty exams, definitely follow up with those,” he urges.